The Next Chapter

How Antanas Sileika mined his unreliable memory to pen his memoir

The Barefoot Bingo Caller recalls the lure of 1960s Yorkville and Sileika's Lithuanian parents' attempts to keep him connected to his Eastern European roots.
In his memoir, Antanas Sileika shares stories from his childhood to his experience as a Lithuanian-Canadian father. (Liudas Masys/ECW Press)

The last time columnist and writer Antanas Sileika was on The Next Chapter, the author was reading The Memory Illusion by Dr. Julia Shaw — a book about the ways in which our brains can be led astray when it comes to recalling our past. Sileika knows that memory is unreliable, but he didn't let that stop him from writing his memoir, The Barefoot Bingo Caller. In it, Sileika recalls growing up in Weston, a Toronto suburb, under the watchful eyes of his Lithuanian-Canadian parents.

Mining memories

As I look for the memories, I can't help but be conscious that the incidents I describe seem to have a shape. Many of the incidents have a beginning, middle and end, which is really the structure of fiction. Then the question becomes, "How authentic is this book that I've written?" Research has shown us that we tend to create the past. This is my best re-creation of a time, but I'm keenly aware that the truth is very slippery.

Why he's the barefoot Bingo caller

One night, I was calling Bingo — the poor man's Las Vegas. It was gritty. 700 people smoking in the room together and I was smoking too. I'd take a puff between every number that I called and one of my regulars won the big game — 500 bucks. They strong-armed me and said, "We're going out." I said, "It's kind of late now." In those days the bars in Toronto closed at 1:00 a.m. I said, "It's after 11, by the time we get there we will make last call." They said, "Don't you worry. Come with us." They take me in a cab downtown and we had to walk down this dark alley. It was like something from a noir movie. We turn a corner by the loading dock and there's a guy and he says, "Shoes, man." So the people who are trying to take me to this cool spot realize they've got this goofball with them who's wearing Hush Puppies. And Hush Puppies don't make it past security! 

Antanas Sileika's comments have been edited and condensed.