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 whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but  there didn't seem to be any reason to cry 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.


  "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," 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 in the park 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, 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 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 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 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," 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 "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 Paul?"

"Yes." "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. We should never under- estimate the impression you may make on others.    Whose life have you touched today?
Information Please. . .