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Christmas with the Piano Man

In Memory of William Schoffro, the Piano Man

In large families, it may be easy to overlook the true significance of each person’s contribution. Such is the case with my Uncle Bill. He often took a backseat, which was typically a piano bench, to those bolder family members. My grandparents were larger than life, the kind of people who were unlike others of their time, held unique views, and were the glue that held my family together, albeit many people might have mistaken them for humble farmers. In the shadow of such bright lights, it might be easy to feel unnoticed, and I imagine that my uncle may have felt that way on more than one occasion.

But not at Christmas. It was as Christmas that my uncle truly shone. A rather shy and mild-mannered man, his love of music, theatre, and family could not be missed. He’d gather up his nieces and nephews, thirteen of us in all, and usher us to the basement of my grandparents’ farmhouse, where you’d find shelves upon shelves of preserves, root vegetables, and other rewards from the previous summer’s harvest. While the Christmas meal always delighted, it was not the star of the holiday. We were. My uncle sat at the piano in the one large finished room in the basement, gathered us around to sing carols and begin to brainstorm the Christmas play or pageant we would reveal to our audience in only a few hours’ time.

We’d open trunks of old clothes, shoes, boots, and other items and turn them into the costumes for our evening where we’d gather our parents and grandparents for our annual play, complete with singing and dancing, and plentiful amounts of hilarity. One night every year we’d magically transform into something akin to the vonTrapp family, where the musicality of our Austrian heritage mixed with the merriment of our French ancestry, for a lively and unforgettable evening of laughter.

It was the stuff of holiday movies from a forgotten time. I loved our annual tradition but I’m not sure I fully grasped how rare and special this custom was. Over the years, I spoke to many friends about their traditions, and it was during this time that I learned that these experiences, were largely unheard of, making them all the more legendary to me.

Happy to take a backseat piano bench, my Uncle Bill, known to many as the Piano Man, was a unifying force that brought untold joy to our family. Through whole evenings of music and even more encouragement, he’d help us find our moment in the spotlight. It is especially at Christmas that I cherish these memories and my uncle whose presence still brings a smile to my face and a heart full of merriment by which to remember him.

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