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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 hacked 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 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 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. Is this 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?

Contributed by Peggy Nivison