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 used to talk 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 reasons in crying because there was no one home to give my 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 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?”


“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 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.  Just the day before, when I caught my pet chipmunk, she told me my new-found friend would eat fruits and nuts. 


Then, there came the time when our pet canary Petey died.  I called “Information Please” and told her the sad story.  She listened and then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child.  But I was un-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, “Paul, always remember there are other worlds in which to sing.”


Somehow, I felt better.


Another day I was on the telephone.  “Information Please.”


“Information,” said the now familiar voice.


“How do you spell ‘fix’?”


All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  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.  Somehow I never thought of trying the shiny new phone 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 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 say, “Information.”


I had not 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 looked forward to your calls.”


I told her how often I thought of her over the years and 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 was 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?”




“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 in which to sing.  He’ll know what I mean.” 



I thanked her and hung up.  I knew what Sally meant.