‘Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog’ by Stephanie Vaughn

“When I was twelve years old,” the narrator, Gemma, begins, “my father was tall and awesome.” But her father ends up far from his vigorous younger self — reclusive, depressed, an alcoholic drinking himself to death — and her story revolves around her fondest memories of the man at the most difficult time in his life, essentially representing her efforts to breathe some life back into a soul misrepresented by those who survived him. “In the eulogy” at his funeral, she says, “he was remembered for having survived the first wave of the invasion of Normandy.” Among the funeral attendees, however, he was instead admired “for having been the proprietor of a chain of excellent hardware stores.” Gemma tries to find words to reanimate the man who she knew as someone between those two extreme versions of himself — between the dashing wartime hero and the buttoned-down, Eisenhower-era shopkeeper — and she takes her lead from the words her father gave her when she was a child. The clue is in the title; the meaning of the words is a bond between parent and child and, through the child’s recollections in adulthood, between a man misunderstood by the world and the man he really was.

from Sweet Talk, Random House 1990; listen to it read aloud by Tea Obreht here

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