To really understand the man, remember he’s human. This was an incredibly difficult physical time for him. There’s nothing easy about not being able to hold your head up high. Who are we kidding? He’s a real guy with real passion for living and it would take an unusual person to sit there and say, “Uh, that’s the way it goes.” It wasn’t just “Oh, ha-ha.” You block a lot of this stuff out. The mind is wonderful. You numb yourself to the difficult things. The reality was he was angry about losing this incredible life that he had. You see a guy who gets increasingly locked up in his body. He’d get frustrated. He’d drive the cart around and bang into things. He became increasingly sarcastic—that’s hard for a 19-year-old to take. You know, the kind of loving questioning that some guys from the earlier years might remember could be a little more edgy and harder. And I say that with a lot of love. It doesn’t diminish the man to say that here was a guy who was himself struggling with his own mortality. But he was there for people like me, a very self-absorbed kid at the time who wanted to talk about what he wanted to talk about. He invited you literally into his home. He never stopped teaching.

I took the prep courses for the At Home [II] program that never took place and as a junior sought him out to do what for me was a proxy for an At Home experience. I asked him to help me, as a Winter Study, with sort of a photography project. Gaudino supported me to go back and actually spend a month living in the Italian-American neighborhood in Rome NY, into the mucklands of central New York State where huge populations of Italian immigrants went to work in the copper factories, brass factories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is how my mother’s family came to the United States. My grandfather and grandmother had pulled themselves out of the neighborhood then, after Harvard Law School, he went back and at the time was a judge living outside of Rome. But I went back and lived with my cousin David and his mom and dad in the Italian neighborhood. I had grown up with David, we were kids and then you know how you have cousins and you’re just following a different path and you’re not sure why and then you continue to separate? You’re on a track that’s taking you to Williams and he’s on a different track. And that was my life. It was one foot in my great-grandfather’s store on East Dominic Street in Rome, N.Y., and the other foot in this rather pristine WASPY world of the other side of the tracks where my grandparents lived and Italian was not spoken. For me, I was just fascinated by it, like “Who am I?”

Yes, I sought Gaudino out because of the Italian background and it enabled him to put the questions back to me. But honestly he didn’t talk so much about himself with me. It may be that the exercise of watching a kid try to come to grips with that separation was interesting to him, because that’s what we would talk about, about why my grandfather would be really quite upset. My grandfather said “I want you to stay with us in our nice home.” I said, “No papa, this is really important. I want to stay in the neighborhood. No, I’m not going to get myself drunk or beaten up.” My grandfather saw risk and danger where he thought I didn’t. That’s what I would talk about with Gaudino to better understand, “How did I end up where I was?”

With my relatives who never left, if I had confronted them with that, would have been offended and defensive. Gaudino approached it much more subtly, by saying, “What is there about being in the neighborhood that was important?” Well, you realize comfort, being unwilling to take risk. This is what I came to appreciate, the depth of the risk that my grandfathers had both taken to move out of that world to realize the American Dream experience.

The result was a photographic essay of the East Rome, N.Y. experience, all the people in the neighborhood and my great grandfather’s store, this incredible store with hanging cheeses and vats of olives and all of this wonderful stuff, which Gaudino loved. I would come back with boxes of this stuff for him and we’d sit in his kitchen and I would share with him the sausages, the real Italian salamis and the Italian meats. I would bring back care packages with real Italian cookies, but it was the meats, real Italian soul food, that he loved most and we would sit in his kitchen and eat. It was hard for him to chew and I cut it pretty thin. It was hard for him to eat some of this stuff as we got into that spring. But he loved it.

The pictures were the best work I ever did and I ended up preparing a gallery exhibition at the college museum. Gaudino is not in the pictures. But look at Joe Basil, the minstrel, playing his base violin with a smile on his face, and you see him. Not a very tall guy, tremendous joy of living, a guy totally comfortable in his skin, living in this world but his world view goes well beyond that.