Friday, April 21, 2006

The old phone

When I was quite young, 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

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

"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

"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

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.

Whose life have you touched today?

Why not pass this on? I just did....

Lifting you on eagle's wings. May you find the joy and peace you long for.

Life is a journey ... NOT a guided tour.

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