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"Information Please" (dialing 411)

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A wonderful story of caring and sympathy never to be repeated as "information please" is now not only automated but also fee based.


The Black Telephone
Those of us old enough to remember when the phone was wired to the wall, usually in the kitchen, can relate to this story. I loved this read.
When I was a young boy, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember 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 anyone's number and the correct time.
My personal experience with the genie-in-a-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 seemed no point 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 the icebox?" she asked.
I said I could.
"Then chip off a little bit 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 things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was not consoled. 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, " Wayne , always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow I felt better.
Another day I was on the telephone, "Information Please."
"Information," said in the now familiar voice.
"How do I spell fix?" I asked
All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest . When I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston . I missed my friend very much.
"Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home and I somehow never thought of trying the shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall. As I grew into my teens, 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.
A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle . I had about a half-hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes or so 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.
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 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 said.
"Yes, a very old friend," I 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 I could hang up, she said, "Wait a minute, did you say your name was Wayne ?" "
"Yes." I 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."
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?




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10 minutes ago, Littlesister said:

That is a great story and I remember those phones very well. That bought back memories of those old phones. I remember the party lines also.


I think we had a wall mounted phone when I was very young. I remember when I was in college and staying at my grandmother's house that she had one of those "new fangled" Princess phones..................... and that it was modular, so the line to the wall was very long, but the cord from the phone to the handset was "normal." Those older phones that were attached to the wall had very long cords that used to get twisted up and you were constantly having to untangle it! This was also still when the phone company owned the phones - not the customer! (Just as an aside, there is a very old Whoopie Goldberg movie called "The Telephone" whose plotline is very dependent on this fact.)

A crazy out of work actress, Vashti Blue, spends all her time in her small apartment with her pet owl and her telephone, which she uses to try and solve all her problems with life. (1988)


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I remember my aunts phone from the late 1950's It was an old left over from the time her husband was a fireman. First they had a buzzer in the house and then a phone. I still remember her number...938-3855. That was 70 years ago and I found out that many of my other cousins remember the number too. It was a party line shared with 3-4 other families. When I was bored, I often listened in. She and one other aunt, who lived in the country, were the only ones in the family who had a phone. My aunt in the country also had a party line. In her area each family had a special ring so everyone didn't answer the phone at the same time.


We had a phone in the kitchen but it wasn't on the wall. It sat on a very little table in the corner. When I became dating age I got a princess phone in my room one Christmas. It was an extension. Soon after I got the phone I started dating my future husband. We kept the line tied up for hours. It was a private line. You had a choice back them.


Private lines were more expensive. And you paid according to how many people were on your party line. The fewer people you shared a line with the more expensive it was. 


Back then there wasn't a 911 or a 411. We only had "O" or operator. They answered everything from emergencies to the correct time. Most people called the operator when they wanted someone else's number. They never told you to look it up. They just asked if you wanted then to dial it for you. 


The first phones I had after I got married were all wall phones. Beige. Then the cordless phones came out and we no longer had to make a mad dash to answer the phone. Now it's a cell phone that I only know how to answer and sometimes hang up. 


I wonder, is there still an operator? And what is their purpose? I'm too afraid to dial it. It might go to the police department wondering what my emergency is.  :unsure:

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My parents had a phone just like the one in the picture. And it also was black. My grandparents had one that just set on the desk in dining room just outside the kitchen door. I still remember my parent's number 399-0338. They started out with a party line and then a private line. Yep, that was a good 70 years ago. I also remember the princess phone. I also had one of those.  

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