They were his random responses to all questions.
He was not a Southern gentleman, and they were odd couplets of words to be the only ones left that he could retrieve. We couldn't remember him ever saying either one.
Speech aphasia, they told us after his stroke. Words might come back with time and therapy. We had hope.
My sister drove him from the local hospital to a larger one that had a rehabilitation unit. With no words and little to see during the 70 miles across cornfields of central Illinois, she started to sing old songs that Dad might know. She was surprised to hear that he was singing along. It seemed a good sign.
We learned later that the ability to sing is stored in a different hemisphere of the brain than the ability to speak. Singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame never translated to him asking to be taken to a game. Even though, in earlier days, those words were much more likely to be uttered than "yes, ma'am" or "no, ma'am."
Months of therapy were successful in giving him a little more mobility but unsuccessful in giving him more words, leaving him with his two couplets and the occasional surprise.
One occurred the day that Ben walked in. We had moved Dad to a nursing home where Ben had been his roommate while we waited for the room to open up that he and Mom were now sharing. Ben was diabetic and couldn't have sweets, but got around his sugar restrictions by roaming the halls and grabbing candy from other people's rooms. Foil wrapped chocolates on a dresser in view of the door beckoned, and Ben walked in.
Dad saw the theft, sat up in his chair and said, clear as a bell, "I'm going to punch you in the nose." Eight words that our pacifist Dad had almost certainly never strung together in his life.
They might have come to blows if Ben hadn't been fast out of the room and Dad slow out of his chair. With his right side weakness, there were no fast movements for him.
There was only one time that he moved quickly. That was when Mom kept pressing the buttom on his Lift chair thinking it was the call button for the nurse. Dad, finding himself being quickly lifted to a standing position, frantically waved his good arm trying to get someone's attention.
He had no word for stop.
We had little understanding of where the words to Ben came from when more useful words, like "Help" or "What's for dinner?" were lost. No other whole sentences were ever heard. "I love you," was never once uttered, in excitement of otherwise, to the wife or daughters that were his life.
He could play poker and blackjack using hand gestures to indicate when he needed new cards. He smiled at appropriate places in jokes and family stories. But responses to basic questions went unanswered.
"What's my name Dad?"
"Do you know who I am, Dad?"
Although he did. His words were expressed in pantomime now. He smiled when I came through the door and raised his hand when I left. He stroked his cheek until I got out the electric razor if we'd gone a day without a shave. He held up his remote control when he had pushed errant buttoms that necessitated reprogramming. And when all of his underwear was somehow lost in the trek from room to communal laundry and back to dresser, he slowly pulled down the elastic waist band of his sweat pants, inch by inch, until I realized that he was going commando and needed new scivvies.
"Do you need new underwear Dad?"
He smiled as if I had just won a point for our side in a well played game of charades.
Except for the brief run in with Ben, the essence of Dad's personality seemed unaffected by his wordless world. For three years, we saw tears only once. There was little frustration and no depression that we could see. He took care of Mom by slowly pushing her wheelchair to the dining room and holding her hand as they sat in their chairs. He remained nearly wordless and changed, but somehow content and present. Always glad to see us. Never missing a meal and finishing each one as quickly as he always had. Happy to get food from the outside, to sit outdoors, take car rides, and watch golf and ballgames on TV.
Surprising us only occassionally with words.
"What's my name, Dad?"
"I'm Jeanne, Dad."
And a soft, "Jeanne."
When he developed an infection that was shutting down his kidneys and sent him to the hospital, the Doctor asked if we wanted extraordinary measures taken. I said "no," and asked Dad if that was right.
He squeezed my hand.