Long years ago I was touched by a story which illustrated love of neighbor between a small boy named Paul and a telephone operator he had never met. These were the days many will remember with nostalgia but which a new generation will never experience.
Paul related the story: “When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember that the shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but I used to listen with fascination when Mother would talk 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.
“I learned that if I stood on a stool, I could reach the telephone. I called ‘Information, Please’ for all sorts of things. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my arithmetic, too.
“Then there was the time that 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 unconsoled. ‘Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers, feet up, on the bottom of the cage?’ I asked.
“She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, ‘Paul, always remember that there are other worlds in which to sing.’ Somehow I felt better.
“All this took place in a small town near Seattle. Then we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. ‘Information, Please’ belonged to that old wooden box back home, and I somehow never thought of trying to call her. 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.
“Later, when I went west to college, my plane made a stop in Seattle,” Paul continued. “I called ‘Information, Please,’ and when, miraculously, I heard that familiar voice, I said to her, ‘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 west.
“ ‘Please do,’ she said. ‘Just ask for Sally.’
“Only three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, ‘Information,’ and I asked for Sally. ‘Are you a friend?’ the woman asked.
“ ‘Yes, a very old friend,’ I replied.
“ ‘Then I’m sorry to have to tell you. Sally has only been working part-time the last few years because she was ill. She died five weeks ago.’ But before I could hang up, she said, ‘Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?’
“ ‘Yes,’ I responded.
“ ‘Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down. Here it is—I’ll read it. Tell him I still say there are other worlds in which to sing. He’ll know what I mean.’
“I thanked her and hung up,” said Paul. “I did know what Sally meant.”Sally, the telephone operator, and Paul, the boy—the man—were in reality good Samaritans to each other.