Friday, July 29, 2011

Information Please

When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall.  The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.  I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it. Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person--her name was "Information, Please" and there was nothing she did not know.  "Information, Please" could supply anybody's number and the correct time.  
My first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible but there didn't seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.  I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. "Information, Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.  
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear, "Information."
"I hurt my finger," I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.
"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.
"Nobody's home but me." I blubbered.
"Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.
"No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."
"Can you open your icebox?" she asked.
I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your
finger," said the voice. 
After that, I called "Information, Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk, that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.  
Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called  "Information, Please" and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but I was inconsolable.  I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring  joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"
She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in."  Somehow I felt better.  
Another day I was on the telephone. "Information, Please."
"Information," said the now familiar voice.
"How do you spell fix?" I asked. 
All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. "Information, Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall. 
As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy. 
A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking
what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information, Please." Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, "Information."
I hadn't planned this but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"

There was a long pause. Then came the soft-spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

I laughed. "So it's really still you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?" 
"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls." 
I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.

"Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally." 

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, "Information."

I asked for Sally.

"Are you a friend?" she asked.

"Yes, a very old friend," I answered.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago."

Before I could hang up she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?"   "Yes," I replied.

"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you."

The note said, "Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in.  He'll know what I mean." 
I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant. 

Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched today? 



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1 Responses to “Information Please”

Adel said...
November 30, 2011 at 10:55 PM

I was really inspired by this story, simple but amazing, I enjoy every part of it, thanks for making my day!
Zero Dramas


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