I grew up in a family of loud Italian Americans. They drank, they ate plentiful amounts of pasta and cured meats, they went to mass, they gambled. They made every day a celebration. During nightly gatherings at my grandparents’ Canton, Ohio house, I absorbed the sights and sounds of this beautiful and boisterous crew. There was my wry and hilarious grandpa’s usual dinner-party balancing act, grabbing any remaining post-meal items from the table, and then building his own Leaning Tower of Pisa. Porcelain sugar packet holders, tangerines, roasted chestnuts, empty Michelob bottles, dinner rolls, salami shards, salt and pepper shakers—he worked his structural magic with whatever the table dealt him that evening—my grandma, her siblings and their spouses whistling and cheering him on with great delight.
Towers is a loving tribute to my good-time having grandpa, who no doubt is entertaining dinner parties hosted by my grandma somewhere over the rainbow. His construction materials are all accounted for, from logs of meat and cracker-like breadsticks to green olives and containers of crushed red pepper flakes. I made sure to stick with the mealtime girders and scaffolding that would’ve regularly been found on my family’s table—my uncle’s plastic Busch cup made a frequent appearance, a rosary was usually within reach, and pizzelles and anise toast were never not around. It felt great to hold my breath and get stacking, and I think my grandpa would be pleased to see me carrying the torch.
Styling: Michelle Maguire
Photography: Kelsey McClellan
My grandpa, grandma, and great-aunt Doll, February 1980, Canton, Ohio.