When I was a little girl, I ran into my mother’s room crying because I had a nightmare where she was eaten by a goblin. I jumped into her arms and asked her to never leave me. She told me that one day, hopefully a day far away from then, she would have to leave this earth, but she would never leave me. She said that we always carry the people we love within us, wherever we go. Moving away to college, I found that sentiment to be more true than ever before. If I think hard enough, I can distinctly smell the rosy scent of my mother’s perfume. If I close my eyes for long enough, I can hear the laughter my brother and I shared over an episode of Spongebob. We carry the experiences we have with our loved ones for our entire lives. I have always believed this is true for everyone. One chilly winter’s evening, as the long awaited snow of January was falling softly outside the window of Literati Bookstore, this belief was further solidified in my mind.
Sid Smith, a professor of Women’s Studies at the University, received devastating news a few years ago: Her husband was diagnosed with dementia. A lot changed after this diagnosis, specifically his ability to tell stories like he used to, which is why Smith conducted the reading of her husband’s book “Canio’s Secret,” a book laced with memories Greg was no longer able to recall. Currently, Greg’s dimentia prevents him from reading his story himself.
Walking into Literati, I was a bit skeptical. I didn’t know much about this book besides the brief description I had read online. I knew it was set in Chicago in the ’50s and that it was a “coming-of-age story chronicling a boy’s poignant struggle to find consolation in his mother’s Catholicism and to break free of his father’s anger.” I was curious as to why the wife of the author was reading his novel, as opposed to the author himself. But then Sid Smith began to speak of her husband and his battle with dementia, my questions were answered.
“The memories in this book have evaporated like snowflakes in his mind,” Smith wrote in her editor’s note. She went on to add, “I don’t have the theatrical background that Greg had, so I probably won’t be able to do his story as much justice as he could in reading it.” Smith spoke of the love she had for her husband, holding back tears as she read the note. Her delicate and thoughtful reading of his writing was moving.
As a listener, I could almost hear her husband speaking the words he wrote. “It’s hard for me to read it, in a way, because I can hear his voice saying it,” Smith said. Although I hadn’t met her husband before, I felt as though I could hear his voice saying it, too. Her deep understanding and love for her husband made it easy for listeners to envision him reading his words right alongside her.
The story itself was intriguing. There were numerous themes at play: Greg’s relationship with catholicism, his familial conflicts and a young boy finding his way in ’50s Chicago. The sections of the book Smith had selected for the reading allowed listeners to gage a full scope of the content of the book without giving away too much. The passages she read were detailed and left me wanting to read more.
I wish the crowd size of the event was larger and that there were more youth and students in the audience. Me and my three friends seemed to be the youngest in the audience of 20 people by about 15 years. The event as a whole was very well put together, but I wish more people had experienced the rich words of Greg’s novel.
Smith’s love for her husband radiated to the entire room. Her husband, pre-dementia, was still living and breathing inside of her. He seemed to be joining the guests at Literati in an evening out as well. During the question and answer portion of the event, Smith read an anecdote about how her husband was a real charmer. How he could talk up anyone in any room because he was truly interested in people. During this reading, it felt as if Greg was waltzing around the bookstore, charming us all by telling the intriguing story of his life. It’s quite beautiful how love has the power to create entire beings. It’s quite beautiful how Smith had the strength and perseverance to share both her husband and her love for him with all of us for a few hours on a snowy January evening. What a gift it was.