“‘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 reach 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, which I 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, and told ‘Information Please’ 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 families, only to end up as a heap of feathers an 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.
“Another day I was on the telephone: ‘Information Please.’
“‘Information,’ said in 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 9 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 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.