My mom and most of the other adults I knew as a kid were not acquainted with the phrase “inside voices.”  When kids were too loud or talking in a place where “silence was golden” adults told them to “shut up,” “be quiet,” “quiet down,” or the adult put a hand over the child’s mouth or the adult put a finger over his/her own mouth to shush the child. 

My mom never told us to shut up, and the finger over her mouth was reserved for those places in which she too should not talk.  When we kids made so much noise in the house that our mom couldn’t tolerate it anymore, her favorite expression was, “Stop all that racket.  I can’t hear myself think.” 

When our mom said this (actually, yelled this), we kids knew we’d better quiet down or be forced to “go sit somewhere and be quiet.”  My mom was not familiar with the phrase “time out.”  Although we kids could not grasp how she couldn’t hear herself think, we dared not ask for an explanation.

I think about my mom’s expressions whenever assaulted by loud noises.  Once, on one of the hinged buses, a woman sat behind me on an elevated seat and started talking on her cell phone so loud that she could be heard blocks away (a slight exaggeration). 

I turned around and glanced at her.  Thank goodness, she didn’t curse me out or wop me in the head. 

I have no idea what expression was on my face, but she told the person to whom she was speaking, “I got to hang up now.  This lady just turned around and looked at me.”  She hung up.  Thank goodness for small wonders. 

In comparison, there are people who get on the bus (at Howard) and talk loudly and incessantly (all the way down to Water Tower or beyond), even though other passengers glare at them.  Oh, how I long to shout, “Stop all that racket.  I can’t hear myself think.”

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...