Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Other Worlds to Sing In.

Like many of us in 2010, I have several phones in my house and a cell phone in my purse but this has not always been true.

One of my favorite stories is about Wayne, a young boy whose Dad installed one of the first telephones in their neighborhood. It was a polished, old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.

Wayne was too small to reach the telephone, but listened with fascination when his mother talked to it. He tells how he 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.

His personal experience with the genie-in-a-bottle came one day while his mother was briefly visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, he whacked his finger with a hammer, the pain was terrible, but there seemed no point in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.

Wayne tells how he walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, he ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to his ear.

"Information, please'" he said into the mouthpiece just above his head. A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into his ear. 'Information… I hurt my finger" ... he wailed into the phone, the tears came readily enough now that he had an audience. "Isn't your mother home?" came the question. "Nobody's home but me," He blubbered. " Are you bleeding?" the voice asked. 'No,' he replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.'" "Can you open the icebox?'"she asked. He said he could. 'Then chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger,' said the voice.

After that, Wayne called "Information Please" for everything. He asked her for help with his geography, and she told him where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his math. She told him his pet chipmunk that he had caught in the park would eat fruit and nuts.

Then, there was the time Petey, his pet canary, died. He called, Information Please, and told her the sad story. She listened, and then said things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But he was not consoled.

He asked her, 'Why is it that birds 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 his deep concern, for she said quietly, 'Wayne, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.'

Somehow he felt better. Another day he called and asked, "How do I spell fix?'" All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.

When Wayne was ten years old, the family moved across the country to Boston. Wayne missed his friend very much. but "Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home and he somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.

As he grew into his teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him... he would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on his way west to college, his plane put down in Seattle. He had about a half-hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with his sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, he dialed his hometown operator and said, “Information Please.”

Miraculously, he heard her small clear voice; “Information.” He hadn't planned it but heard himself 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.” He laughed, “So it's really you,” he 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 he was back in Seattle.. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. ”Are you a friend?” she said. “Yes, a very old friend,” He 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 Wayne could hang up she said, “Wait a minute, did you say your name is Wayne?” “Yes.” Wayne 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.”

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