When My Sister Communicated Without Saying a Word


My sister Joyce never developed spoken language. She communicated simple needs through a combination of gestures and vowel sounds, tempered with a sweetly crooked smile and a playful giggle. Family members helped her with difficult tasks, such as opening buttons or pouring from containers. 

One evening, our family was huddled around the TV in the downstairs of our bi-level, engrossed in the Movie of the Week. We barely noticed Joyce walk upstairs to the kitchen. Bette Davis had drawn the rest of us into another time and place.

“Eh, eh”, Joyce said, loud enough to be heard downstairs. She wanted our attention to her need in the kitchen.

“OK, I’ll be right there,” my mom called, still staring at the TV.

“Eh, eh,” Joyce said a few moments later, rattling her cup on the kitchen counter. 

She was making it clear: “I’m thirsty and I need help pouring a drink.”

“We’ll be there in a minute, Joyce,” my sister Judy answered, glued to the tube.

Silence for a minute.

“Eh, eh,” Joyce insisted, banging her cup harder. 

“We’ll get you a drink at the next commercial!” I yelled. 

A few more moments of silence followed. Then we heard Joyce’s shuffling feet in the kitchen overhead and a mischievous giggle. In moments, her plastic cup sailed down the stairs and hit the floor near the TV.

“Well, she knows how to get our attention!” my mother laughed. She began to stand in response to Joyce’s not-too-subtle request, but then paused, listening.

There was more shuffling and giggling upstairs, followed by the sound of the refrigerator door opening. My mother barely got out the words, “Uh-oh,” when a plastic milk jug dropped down the stairs and crashed next to the cup. Milk splattered everywhere. 

As white drops slid down Bette Davis’ cheek, all we could hear was Joyce’s giggle. She had communicated effectively without saying a word.

Read more from Jeanne Moran on her website.

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