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Monday, August 19, 2013

The Little Black Phone

When I was  a young boy, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I  remember 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 anyone's number and the correct time.

My personal  experience with the genie-in-a-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 seemed no  point 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.


"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 the icebox?" she asked.

I said I  could.

"Then chip off a little bit 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,  and then said things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was not consoled.  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,  "Wayne, 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 in the now familiar  voice.

"How do I 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 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 a half-hour or so between planes. 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 hometown operator and said,  "Information Please."

Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice
I  knew so well.
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  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 call 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  said.
"Yes, a very old friend," I answered.
"I'm sorry to have  to tell you this," She said. "Sally had 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 Wayne ?"
"Yes." I answered.

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 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.

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