Page 82, AIG
Index 3
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Picture of a telephone
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 that 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?"  "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 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 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 hometown operator and said, "Information
Please."

Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice I knew so well,
"Information." I hadn't planned this but I heard myself saying, "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 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, 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?"

"Yes."

"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.
The telephone
INFORMATION PLEASE
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