When I was a little girl, our family had one of the first telephones in the neighborhood. I remember the polished, black case that was fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver was hooked to the side of it. I was too short to reach it but I used to listen with fascination when my mother or father talked into it.
One day, I discovered that somewhere inside that magical 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 as well as the correct time.
My personal experience with this ‘genie-in-a-bottle’ came one afternoon while my mother was visiting her sister. Amusing myself with my paper dolls, I fell and hurt my finger and it was very painful. But, there was no point crying, because there was no one home to give me any sympathy. I walked around the house, sucking my finger and when I reached the kitchen, I noticed the telephone. It gave me an idea. I brought the footstool from the study, placed it under the phone and then I climbed up. GIngerly, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear. “Information Please” I said into the mouthpiece. I heard a few clicks and a clear voice spoke into my ear.
“I hurt my finger,” I wailed into the phone, and the tears came readily now that I had an audience.
“Isn’t your mother home?” the voice asked me.
“Nobody’s home but me,” I cried.
“Is it bleeding?” she asked.
“No” I replied. “But I hurt it when I fell.”
“Can you open the refrigerator?”
“Well, chip off a little bit of ice and hold it to your finger,” the voice said. “And come back to the phone when you are done. I’ll wait..”
I thanked her, clambered down and did what she said, and … it worked. I returned to the phone, thanked her and hung it up on the hook.
After that, I called Information Please for everything. I called for help with my geography homework and she helped me with my math. Then, there was the time Penny, our pet budgie died. I called Information Please and she listened. She actually managed to soothe me. But, I was not consoled. I asked her why such a pretty bird that brought joy to us all should end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of its cage? And she took the trouble to explain the cycle of life to me.
This took place in Bloemfontein, a small town in South Africa. When I was nine years old, we moved to the other side of the town and another voice answered when I picked up the receiver. I missed my friend very much. Information Please belonged in our phone and now that I was older and wiser, I stopped calling her although memories of those childhood conversations never really left me.
Often, in moments of doubt, I would recall the serene sense of security I had felt then. I appreciated how patient, understanding and kind she had been to spend her time on a little girl.
Time passed and some years later, I was on a plane en route to Cape Town and had half an hour between flights, so I decided to call my mother in Bloemfontein and without thinking, said; Information Please. Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well. ‘Information.’ I hadn’t planned on saying this but it simply came out: “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.”
“So it’s really you,” I said. “I wonder whether you have any idea how much you meant to me during my childhood?”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you knew how much your calls meant to me. I never had children of my own and actually looked forward to hearing from you.”
I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and asked if I could call again when I came back to visit the family.
“Please do,” she said. “Ask for Sally.”
Three months later I was back and a different voice said ‘Information.’ “Can I speak to Sally please?”
“Are you a friend?” she asked.
“Yes, a very old friend.”
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you but Sally worked part time for the last few years as she was very sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before I could replace the receiver, she said; “Wait a minute. Is your name Jill?”
“Yes it is.”
“Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.”
“Tell him that there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
I thanked her and replaced the receiver very slowly. I knew what Sally meant.
Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Let’s ask ourselves:
Whose life have I touched today?