Shirley Thompson

North Shore Update




By Shirley Thompson


My husband is disabled with MS and is in a wheelchair.  He is at home all day and tends to get a bit bored.  The Home Shopping Channel, on our TV, now has a parental lock on it.

I took Richard, my husband, to Office Depot to get some supplies he needed.  On the way home he said he wanted to stop at Schmitt Music.

“What for?” I asked.

“They are having a piano sale,” was his response.

“What does that have to do with us?”  I replied.  “We don’t play the piano.”

Well,” he said.  “I want to look at the baby grand pianos.  I have always wanted one.”

“That certainly makes sense,” was my response.  “We buy a baby grand piano and neither of us can play the thing.  Absolutely makes perfect sense.  That is very logical thinking there Richard.”

“I just want to look at them,” was his response.

So I took him over and wheeled him inside.  It was a bit of hard going wheeling his wheelchair around all of those  expensive pianos.

“Why look at this Richard.  Here is one on sale, it’s only $12,000” I said.

He had parked himself in front of a beautiful dark brown mahogany one.  “I really like this one” he said with a far away look on his face.

The sales manager notices us and is at his side in an instant.  “Isn’t this the most beautiful piano you’ve ever seen?”  She gushes.

“Yeah,” said Richard with a sigh.

“Oh no you don’t” I interjected.

“But, it is so beautiful,”  was his response.

“Where in hell would be put the thing,”  was my logical response.

“In the living room, of course,” he responded just like it was the most natural assumption, and why hadn’t I thought of it, kind of response.

“If it goes in the living room, we would have to move out most of the furniture.” I interjected trying to bring him back to the sane world.

“Well,” he replied, “We could put it in the dining room.”

“Now wait a minute here,” I was beginning to panic.  “Where in tarnation would we eat?”

“Look at the beauty of it,”  was his glassy-eyed response.

“I am looking and I just can’t picture a place setting for two to four around it,”  was my reply.

“Oh,” said the sales lady.  “You don’t place things on the piano.”  Now she was beginning to panic.

“We do if we want to eat,” was my reply.

“It would be an investment.”  Richard was still trying to reason this out with me.

“I could think of better places to invest our money,” was my response.

“I’m sure we could put it in the living room.” He was beginning to get that determined sound in his voice.

“Well, of course we could,” I replied.  “If we removed the couch, tables and just sat on the piano bench.  I’m sure we would be comfortable that way.  Are you nuts????”  I asked.

The sales lady seeing the light in Richard’s eyes said, “I have a fold out that we can have you take home that is the size of the baby grand.  You can then see how it will fit in your living room."

“That would be good,”  said Richard.

“Oh no you don’t” was my panicked reply. 

Now the sales lady sat down and played like she was in Carnegie hall.  “Doesn’t it have the most beautiful sound you ever heard?”

“I love it!” Richard was hooked.

“Which one of you plays the piano?” asked the sales lady.

“Neither one of us and none of the four cats do either to my knowledge.  Of course, we don’t have a piano so it is possible one of the cats is a budding pianist and we don’t know about it.  I really can’t see purchasing a grand piano to find out,”  was my reply.

She was now looking a bit skeptical.  Thank goodness someone was still thinking sanely.

“Richard,” I tried to reason.  “You don’t start out with a Stradivarius violin to learn to play the violin.  You start out small and work your way up.”  I was really talking now trying to convince him.

“I want this one,” was his only response.

“Richard,” I said.  “Don’t make me have you committed. You’re not being logical here.  Look at the one next to it here.  It is smaller, shaped like the baby grand, even has that top thing that comes up.  It plays for you and you can follow these little lights.  At least we could learn to play the thing.”

“Oh,” said the sales lady.  “We have some very good teachers that could teach you to play.”

“Not me,” I said.  “I tried that.  The teacher I had quit said it was impossible to teach me.  I don’t care to sit and do those scale things.  I want to play and play now.  I play by ear, I can’t read music.  Never could, and went through years with my clarinet and learned the saxophone all by knowing where the fingering was on my instrument to match the note, listen to the piece, and then play it.”

“Well,” she wasn’t giving up; “We actually have a couple of teachers that teach students that we have that play that way also.  It is a rare gift you have.”  She was really reaching now, and I wasn’t buying into it.

She began to play the smaller piano and it sounded just like the other one.  “You don’t ever have to have this one tuned, it’s electronic, but sounds just like the baby grand.  You have a full orchestra and over 600 different sounds, styles, voices and it has a complete rhythm section for whatever type of music you choose.”

“Considering I can’t read the music that is a bit redundant don’t you think?”  I asked.

“Well,” she responded, “You follow the lights and you can learn to play the first time you use it.”

“Unless I can play at Carnegie Hall” was my response, “I really don’t see the point of buying one of these.”

“Look at all the fun you would have with it.”  She certainly was persistent.

Richard was in la la land again.  She put a disk in and Richard actually played something with a full orchestra behind him.  He was hooked.  I was beginning to realize that he was determined.

“This would be great therapy for my hands” he was starting to reason with me.

“Well,” was my reply, “I could think of therapy that would be a lot less expensive.”

We finally left the store with his grand piano cut out and literature on both pianos.  As we left the store I noticed a basket.  “Look Richard, here a some kazoos for only 80 cents, you could play that right away and look at the money you would save.”  He wasn’t interested.  He had a dreamy far away look on his face.

Well, for a couple of days all was quiet.  Then on Tuesday, two days after our visit to the store, I received a phone call at work.  “I bought the electronic piano, the Clavinova.  It will be delivered tomorrow.”

At least he had warned me.  I guess he figured he would tell me before I got home so that my murderous intentions would calm down before I got home.  They didn’t.

The next night, when I got home, the little baby grand (it is pretty, it is black mahogany) was sitting in my living room, next to the grandfather clock.

I ignored it for a while.  Then my curiosity and interest won out.  I sat down, put in a disk, and played “Send in the Clowns.”  I was hooked.

We have since purchased other disks to use.  I am working on the minuet in G right now.  I have it set for just the right hand.  I did try the one for both hands but decided I needed at least three more pair of hands just to follow the lights.  Richard has decided to wait until fall to book Carnegie Hall for me.  Last night I played the whole disk from the Nutcracker.  Boy, did I murder those little sugar plum fairies.  Richard decided that he had never heard it played quite like that before.

“You sit down here and follow these blinking lights and see just how well you do.”  Was my response to him. 

“Do you need me to sit next to you and tap out the beat?” he replied sarcastically.

“The piano has a metronome that is blinking here.  It doesn’t do me any good to follow the music in the book because I don’t know which keys the notes belong to.  Besides, there are 88 of these fricking keys and it will take me a while before I know which ones belong to which notes,”  was my heated response.  “Here,” I said, “C, D, E, F, G, H, I.”

“A, B”, said Richard.

“What?” I asked.

“There is no H or I note, it’s A or B.” he responded.  “Get out your idiot card for the keyboard and look at it.  These notes just repeat on the keyboard. Did you have an H or I on your clarinet?”

“Possibly,” I replied.

“You’re impossible,”  was his response.

I bravely carried on.  “I keep expecting a hand to come out of the disk drive, you know, from that little orchestra conductor in there, and slap me.”  I was finally admitting defeat.

“It would be a balled fist, and you would require hospitalization,” was Richard’s sarcastic reply.

“Well,” I replied, miffed. “You just roll that chair over here and put your fingers where your mouth is.  See if you can do any better.”

The piano comes with headphones which I am making use of.

Little Alex (the cat) can actually follow the lights pretty well.  He likes to sit on my lap as I play.

“Did you just play the opening bars to Beethoven’s Fifth?” Richard asked the other night.

“Actually, that was Alex.” I said.  “He’s pretty good.  I think I’ll have him play the left hand and I’ll just play the right hand.”  I said.

“I’ll book Carnegie Hall,” was Richard’s reply.


       I traveled to the great north woods recently in northern Wisconsin and Michigan.  This was for a week of total rest and relaxation and to take in the wonderful scenery that is available in that neck of the woods.  There is beautiful Lake Superior, the Kewaunee Peninsula, gorgeous waterfalls and wonderful wooded trails to hike upon.  As usual, things always seem to happen when I travel.

I will begin this saga at the end.  The end is not the usual place to begin a story but I have never been known to do things in their proper order.  I came home from work last night.  It had been my first day back to work after a week of vacation.  For dinner that night I had decided on cooking breakfast.  I did mention that I don’t do things in their proper order didn’t I? Anyway, I got home and was greeted by 2 of our 3 cats at the door.  Now, this is not that unusual except that the one cat missing was Alexi.  Alexi never misses greeting me when I get home to get his usual belly rub and to tell me about his day.  At first, I didn’t really notice he was missing because our older cat Sasha had taken his usual place for an abundance of petting.  Now, Sasha totally dislikes Alexi. The fact that he was missing was of no interest to her.  In fact, he could totally disappear and she would be happy.  It took me about 5 minutes to notice that the vocal Alexi was missing. 

“Where’s Alexi”, I asked my husband.  “I don’t know,” was his reply.  This is typical, the man never knows anything and why I even bothered to ask him is a total mystery to me.  It was than that I noticed a piece of paper on the kitchen counter alerting me to the fact that our furnace and air conditioning maintenance man had been at the condo.  Now, you ask, why should this have anything to do with a missing cat?  Well, Alexi, you see, is a “shy cat”, any stranger sends him into the nearest closet to hide.  I then proceeded to call to him.  No Alexi.  I then decided to start my breakfast/dinner and wait for him to decide to come out of the closet.  You see, I know what you are thinking.  What possible connection does all this have to do with my vacation?  I’m getting to that; just be patient. Well, I did mention that I don’t do things in their normal order didn’t I? I had breakfast/dinner completed within a few minutes and sat down to eat.  I put the plates on the table and decided to check in Alexi’s usual hiding place to see if he was there.  I went down to my husband’s office in the lower floor and peeked in the closet.  I saw two yellow eyes starring back at me.  I was satisfied and came back upstairs to eat.  Meanwhile, our middle cat, Nakita, decided that (she is our maternal cat and we refer to her as “Nurse Nakita because she mothers everyone) Alexi being in the closet meant that he was upset and that I should get him out.  She began her little sing song noises she makes to get my attention.  I told her that Alexi would come out when he was ready and not to worry.  She continued her verbal assault while I ate until I finally hollered at her to “knock it off!” 

Nakita and I had been holding a conversation for the last 10-minutes and my husband had decided it was enough.  “You would think there are 10 people in this house holding a conversation!” he declared.  “It was so peaceful while you were gone last week.  You come home and the constant chattering starts up between you and the three cats.  You would think you could all understand each other the way you carry on,” he continued on in an exasperated tone of voice.

I just grinned and replied, “So, you missed me huh?”


“I didn’t miss all the noise I can tell you that!” was his reply.  “Not only do you talk to our cats but you hold conversations with animals out in the wild!”

“Now, wait a minute,” I complained, “That deer came up to me on its own volition.”

“That’s my whole point!” exclaimed my husband Richard.  “Animals gravitate to you.  You’re like some sort of animal magnet,” he replied.  “You are the only person I know that can go on a simple vacation to relax and turn it into a total disaster!” he exclaimed.

“All right,” I agreed, “the bats were a disaster; I’ll admit that.  But, I was in a mine shaft, deep in the earth.  I wanted to take a picture of that mine.  It was totally dark down there.  How was I supposed to know the flash from my camera would awaken all those bats?” I asked.

“Common sense?” was his reply. 

“I admit they scared me and I did start screaming.  I thought I was all alone down in that mine shaft when that couple suddenly showed up.  The guy scared me even more when he asked me what was wrong.  I wasn’t expecting anyone and I screamed even more when he and his wife showed up.  Besides, his wife didn’t start screaming until I mentioned all the bats,” was my answer.

“Yeah, well what about that innocent couple coming into the mine when you and that couple decided it was time to high-tail it out of there?” he asked. 

“Well, we just waited for them to come down the entrance shaft.  The shaft only has enough room for a one-way trip, either up or down.  Besides, it was her husband that mentioned it might be too dark to use his camera.  I was just being polite when I mentioned that he probably wouldn’t want to use the flash because it scares the bats.  When his wife asked him what I said, he was the one that lied.  He told her I had just said him that it was too dark to take pictures in the mine,” I replied.  “She didn’t start screaming until I corrected him and repeated that the flash would scare the bats.” I continued.  “I will admit that the staff rushing down to see what all the screaming was about was probably due to the chain of events that I had initiated,” I admitted honestly.

“Besides,” I added. “That nice beautiful deer I met in the forest just came up to see what I was doing.  It was just unfortunate that I was changing the film in my camera and couldn’t take her picture.  If that family hadn’t come along and scared her, I would have had a really nice shot,” I continued. 

“I suppose you conversed with the deer as well?” he asked. 

“Of course I did, I was telling her it would only take me a minute or so to get the film in and to be patient.  I could then take her picture for her and all she had to do was just to remain still.  I didn’t use the word “shoot,” I didn’t want to upset her,” I replied. 

“That is exactly what I mean,” my husband said.  “You just sit there and animals come up to you.  I bet you passed any number of bears in that woods and never even noticed them and probably wouldn’t have noticed the one you did see if he hadn’t been right in front of you,” he said. 

Well now, I couldn’t argue with that bit of wisdom and if I did miss seeing bears I was sure that it had been all for the best.   “The one I did see was pretty big, but by the time I got my camera out of the case he had disappeared into the woods,” I told my husband. 

“The fact that you were even thinking of taking a picture at that time alerts me to the fact that you have absolutely no common sense at all,” was his reply.  “I am surprised that you live through your vacations.  I was totally surprised that nothing bad happened to you while you were in Alaska for 2-weeks,” he continued. 


“Hah!” said I.  “The bear incident in Alaska didn’t even happen while I was present.  I had left that area a whole half hour before the 4 people from the group I was traveling with ran into that bear,” I answered. 

“Did it ever occur to you that just the fact that you were in the vicinity might have had something to do with the fact that they even ran into that bear?  You are a travel disaster just waiting to happen as soon as you head out on your vacations.  You are a regular “Lucy” when it comes to travel.  I’m surprised you mother didn’t name you Lucy,” was his cryptic response. 

Well, I couldn’t take that!  “Aren’t you glad she didn’t “RICKY?”  He hates to be called Ricky.  But, at least it shut him up. 

“I’m going to take a nap,” was his only response.  He has MS and is in a wheelchair so his exit couldn’t be as dramatic as he would have liked it to be.  He hadn’t even started eating his breakfast/dinner.  I was done eating and had removed my plate to the kitchen when Alexi decided to make his entrance.  He needed to tell me all about his harrowing day and it was a couple of minutes before I noticed that Nakita had eaten about half of Richard’s scrambled eggs.

“Nakita!” I hollered.  “Stop that!”  She sat back in the chair and looked at me with those innocent eyes of hers.  After all, Richard wasn’t eating them.  She just looked at me with those soulful eyes and said, “What!”  Now, that is exactly what that cat said and I heard it clearly.  Well, I had to holler into Richard in the bedroom to tell him of this newest phenomenon.

“Richard!” I screamed.  “Did you hear Nakita? She just said the word what,” I said. 

The only reply I heard was, “I’m sleeping.”