Saturday, January 12, 2013

< RM > story - Information Please

Information Please

When I was quite young, my father had
one of the first telephones in our neighbor-
hood. 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 used to talk to
Then I discovered that somewhere inside
the wonderful device lived an amazing per-
son - 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 foot-
stool 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
"Nobody's home but me." I blubbered.
"Are you bleeding?"
"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."
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, and she told me my pet chipmunk I
had caught in the park just the day before
would eat fruits and nuts.
And there was the time that 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 unconsoled. Why is it that
birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy
to all families, only to end up as a heap of
feathers, feet up 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. Then
when I was 9 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
hall table.
Yet as I grew into my teens, the memories
of those childhood conversations never real-
ly 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 col-
lege, my plane put down in Seattle. I had
about half an hour or so between plane and
I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with
my sister, who lived there now. Then without
thinking what I was doing, I dialed my home-
town operator and said, "Information
Miraculously, I heard again the small,
clear voice I knew so well, "Information." I
hadn't planned this but I heard myself say-
ing, "could you tell me please how-to spell
fix?' There was a long pause. Then came the
soft spoken answer, "I guess that 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 chil-
dren, and I used to look forward to your
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, just ask for Sally."
Just three months later I was back in
Seattle. A different voice answered
Information and I asked for Sally.
"Are you a friend?" "Yes, a very old
friend." "Then I'm sorry to have to tell you.
Sally has been working part-time the last few
years because she was sick. She died five
weeks ago." But before I could hang up she
said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name
was Paul?"
"Well, Sally left a message for you. She
wrote it down, Here it is I'll read it '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 did know
what Sally meant.

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