American hearts filled with gratitude when it was announced that our Canadian friends had risked their own necks to smuggle some of our people out of Iran.

When that news was made public, millions of us suddenly became aware of what a good neighbor Canada has been. But one District Liner knew it, and wrote about it, long before most of us had ever heard of ayatollahs.

Ellen Slappey of Arlington was so imressed with what Martin Buxbaum wrote about Canada in March of 1975 that she saved the copy of "Table Talk" in which the article appeared. Bux began it this way:

"When you're establishing a permanent home, nothing beats having good neighbors. In this we are most fortunate as a nation. Canada is a wonderful neighbor! Yet the average American knows little about this great neighbor of ours, or its people, or how much they have contributed to our security and way of life.

Thereafter, Bux listed some of things one can mention in praise of Canadians. For example, did you know that Canada outlawed slavery long before we did? Canada did it in 1793.

A Canadian (Dr. James A. Naismith) invented basketball. A Canadian dentist (Dr. Edgar Randolph Parker, who came to be known as Painless Parker) was the first to use "laughing gas" to ease dental pain. Two Canadians (Dr. Charles Best and Dr. Frederick Banting) pioneered in diabetic therapy and the discovery of insulin.

Even "America's sweetheart" (Mary Pickford) was a Canadian.

Heaven knows where Bux found all the information he packed into his essay about Canada, but his final two paragraphs obviously came straight from the heart. He wrote:

"We Americans rest peacefully at night, largely because of this great neighbor to the north of us. Canada is noted as being the world's most consistent 'peacekeeper.'

"Canada's hands and ours have been clasped in friendship for generations. When the last chapter of history is recorded, let it be said that here were two nations that truly knew how to keep peace and friendship for one another always in their hearts."

Bux is right when he says nothing beats having good neighbors. But to have a good neighbor one must be a good neighbor, and we have not always done that. Fate has been kindler to us than we had a right to expect. PERSONAL NOTE

G.M. Van Pool: Several dictionaries list "bother" as one of the meanings of "eat," as in, "What's eating him?" Under the circumstances, I don't think we can call for the scalp of David A. Scully, who composed our crossword puzzle on the day that misbegotten definition was used. However, I share your view that tricky, super-clever clues are an annoyance. I am passing your letter along to our vice president in charge of crossword puzzles. UPDATE

A few days ago, I wrote about the millions of dollars paid out by American educational institutions to the hundreds of lobbyists whose job it is to get federal funds for their clients.

I said that if government aid programs are properly run, it should be simple for schools to find out what's being offered and how to apply for it. bI added that if the aid programs are so extensive and confusing that only a specialist can keep track of them, it is the government's responsibility to simplify its activities and offer them in a useful and comprehensible manner.

Richard Elwell, editor of American Education, tells me that for several years the U.S. Office of Education has been publishing an annual guide to its programs. The information appears first in American Education, then is available in reprints. This year's guide lists 114 different programs, describes the authorizing legislation, tells who may apply, where to apply and the deadline for applying. Applicants are also told how to obtain information about joint state-federal aid programs.

Single copies of the Office of Information's guide to aid programs are available free. Write to: OE Guide-80, Washington, D.C. 20202. Multiple copies may be bought from the Government Printing Office at $1 each. That's a lot cheaper than sending 30 lobbyists to Washington every week to represent one university. THE MALE ANIMAL

Charlie Wadsworth of the Orlando Sentinel tells about the reporter who was sent to interview a man who was celebrating his 100th birthday. Inevitably, the reporter got around to asking, "What do you think of modern women?"

"I don't have any comment on that," the old fellow replied. "I quit thinking about women nearly three years ago."

Gee, if that's what happens to us when we get old, I guess a guy might as well die at 97.