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Finger messages

['Andy Barker']
['Andy Barker']

Columnist Andy Barker has a lot to say about quiet

At Notre Dame Academy in the 1950's my teachers (K-8) were Presentation Sisters. They had their flaws, but were flawless in the pursuit of teaching us proper manners and respect.

Outdoors at recess, being children, we raised holy hell being noisy. But in school and church we were expected to be quiet.

Every first Friday of the month we went to the nearby parish church for morning mass. We sat by grade and gender. We were expected to sit with classmates for almost an hour in total silence. It was too torturous; thus, the whispering.

However, you didn't need a verbal command to stop as the sight of a Sister with her pointer finger touching her closed lips was enough. And you might even hear from her a low level, “Shush.”

Proper behaviour wasn't just confined to school. At the Popular Theatre, Charlie Edwards, the proprietor, often stopped a movie gave an out loud shush, a lecture on the need to be quiet.

As for being content in quiet places, my maternal grandfather, Louie John, a renowned Mi'kmaq guide, trapper, and hunter spent lots of time in the woods, alone.

My paternal grandfather, Bob Barker, once retired from operating woods camps became a fire warden for the AND Company. A summit northwest of Badger, Bob's Hill bears his name. In a tower on that hill and in the camp below he spent his summers, alone.

The stillness of being up in the country was not mine. However, the quietness of libraries has engulfed my life from 1964 to now either as a student, librarian, or library technician.

Before I found my footing in the libraries I worked in industries that had horrendous noise: the pellet plant in Labrador City and the paper mill here where I worked the summers while home from university (1965-67).

The mill's noise unquestionably affected workers, especially those who worked in the machine room where the newsprint was made. Thus, it was and is not, uncommon to see retired workers wearing hearing aids.

Noisy industrial work places are now less common. Yet, quiet it isn't. Disturbances of the peace are widespread as our ears are assaulted by overly loud music at concerts, in restaurants, bars, retail outlets; and even in some office environments.

As well, up in the country and in neighbourhoods it is harder than ever to escape the sea of noise that surrounds us whether it be all terrain vehicles, motorbikes, snowmobiles, snow blowers, lawn mowers or chain saws. And big cities folk live in an environment of constant, heavy, noisy traffic.

Noise adds stress to our lives so it is quite easy to find scholarly and non-scholarly articles to do with noise levels and our health. And you don't need documents to verify the stress of being in a noisy hotel.

Our peace was disturbed years ago on a vacation to Fogo.

In the wee hours of the morning a dog was barking loudly outside our motel window. It went on so long I got up, opened the window, and yelled, "Shut up!" Miraculously it stopped barking.

Next, a drunk in the hallway outside our unit continually asked the bartender, "Give me a ride over to Fogo?" It too, went on and on. I should have yelled at him like I did at the dog; but I didn't. Thankfully, the banter ended.

Shut up can have magical power and is appropriate at times. But more often than not it is too blunt of a command.

Imagine though if we could have the power of the Sisters, a pointer finger on closed lips to stop unacceptable behaviour.

Who would be on your list to warrant such a finger?

I would definitely include the transport truckers who use jake brakes on the highways that border residential areas. The grating loudness, the rat-a-tat-tat emitted from the truck engines murders backyard heavenly bliss; especially during the summer.

Most definitely on my list for the pointer finger would be two groups of cell phones users. The first and smaller category are the ones you do not hear; they break the law and endanger lives as they talk or text while driving. 

The second and the biggest category will talk obnoxiously loudly wherever they please. You can hear them almost anywhere whether it's in store aisles, at checkouts, in stalls in public washrooms, in airports and even on planes.

For the obnoxious ones, if you opt for a "shut up", as I told the dog in Fogo, be my guest.

On those first Fridays in church, the pointer finger aimed for the high ground; doing the right thing in the right place.

Nowadays, we are swamped with low brow behaviour on TV, in movies and on websites where rudeness, crudeness, and poor manners are the new normal.

Thus, it's no surprise the pointer finger has given way to the middle finger which fits right in with the all too noisy environment created by humans.


Andy Barker can be reached at:

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