The Black Telephone

       I recently said I planned to try and keep my comments brief, knowing your time is valuable; however, what I want to share this time is a powerful story and I don't want to make it a two-parter so I ask your indulgence.  I will strive for brevity as often as I can.

     I heard about a young boy, whose father had one of the first telephones in their neighborhood. He remember the polished, old case fastened to the Wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. He was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.   Then 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 visiting a  neighbor. Amusing himself 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. 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, he 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 just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.  Then, there was the time Petey, their 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 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 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 was on the telephone, "Information Please."   "Information," said in the now familiar voice.

      "How do I spell fix?" he asked.   All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest . When he was nine years old, they moved across the country to Boston . He missed his friend very much.   "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. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity 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 the small,  clear voice he knew so well.   "Information."  He hadn't planned this, but he 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."  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 call meant to me."   "I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls."  He told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his 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 he could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne ?"   "Yes." he 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."  He  thanked her and hung up. He 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.... 

t the la     © Dick Caldwell 2012