Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Information, Please"

I must have read this story a half dozen times, but I'll still read it whenever I receive it again....
 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 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?" the voice asked. 
"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 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 the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but I was inconsolable.  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.  

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 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 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 asked. 
"Yes, a very old friend," I answered. 
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "Sally has 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," I replied. 
"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. 


Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched today? 


  1. i read the mandarin version once, this is the first time i read the english version ... it touch me in a very different way ... thanks.
    Reminds me another similar story ... 'A bowl of Wheat Noodle'
    Japan, new year eve, a widow with 2 boys walk in a noodle house that own by an old couple, is late night ... they are going to close business, but the old lady still welcome the widow and her boys, they chose the second table to sit, with a hesitate voice she ask the old lady whether she can order only 1 bowl of noodle for three of them, the old lady with kind smile and politely agreed, she turn to her husband who preparing the noodle to place the order. Her husband raised his head and look at the three of them briefly than start to prepare the noodle, he put in a bunch of noodle into the hot water pot to cook, for very short while he quietly grab another bunch of noodle and throw into the hot water, a few minutes later a bowl of wheat noodle is ready and serve in-front of the widow and her boys. They take turns to eat the noodle quietly, after finished the noodle the widow pay the old lady and wish the couple happy new year.
    The next year, new year eve, late night, the old couple that own the noodle house unexpectedly having the widow and her boys visit again, this year, again they chose the second table, again the widow order a bowl of noodle for three of them, quietly the old man add extra noodle for them without notice and extra charges. As last year, they finished the noodle in turns and thanks to the old couple and left with happy new year wish.
    The coming new year eve late night, the widow with the boys came to the noodle house again, this time they wearing their new cloths, the cloths look a bit cheap but very tidy, the boys also grown a bit compare to last year, this time the widow order 2 bowl of noodle for three of them. This time the old man add half bunch of noodle to each bowl for them without notice and extra charges. As years ago , they finished the noodle and thanks to the couple and left with new year wishes.
    For the continuous years, the widows and her boys came as usual, the second table always their choices, and the old couple always treat them with hospitality. Until a year, the widow and her boys never show up anymore.
    Many years later, during new year eve late night, an elder lady with 2 young man walk into the noodle house, they chose the second table to seat down. It took a while for the old couple to get to know that the three person are the widow and her boys they met many years ago. This time they order 3 bowls of noodle. The old man as usual start to cook the noodle, but this time he prepare the normal 3 bowl of noodle for them. They finished they noodle quietly, at the end of the dinner, the widow told the old couple that how the first, one and only bowl of noodle make her felt warm and welcome in the very cold new year eve, she just lost her husband and her husband left her with 2 kids, the old couple's kindness lift up her life. She thanks the old couple for the years of kindness and hospitality, she told them few years back that she got job in another city and had to move-out of the town, now her 2 sons grown up, and got good job in the city, and they still remember the bowl of noodle that warm-up their life....

    This is among the story that i like the most, other than the 'telephone operator' ... hope you like it too!

  2. thanks, Maylyn. why don't you post this in your blog?