Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Summary
by Stephanie Vaughn

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Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gemma Jackson describes her relationship with her father, Zachary, a military man who after being forced to leave the service started a career in the hardware business. The story is a collection of scenes from Gemma’s childhood that explain how her alcoholic father dealt with her and other members of the family.

The opening vignette takes place at Fort Niagara, a military post to which Gemma’s father, an air defense officer, is assigned. The twelve-year-old Gemma sits at home with her mother and grandmother, who have prepared lunch only to watch it spoil because her father is late. The conversation between the older women makes it clear to the reader, if not to Gemma, that tension exists between the adults in the house. After her father arrives, lunch is like many other meals in the Jackson home: Over his wife’s protests, Zachary uses the time to teach his daughter lessons he believes she will need as an adult. On this day, he lectures Gemma on proper speaking etiquette.

Gemma then recounts how her father taught her another lesson when she was only five and the family was living in Manila. Ignoring an approaching typhoon, the elder Jackson drilled his daughter on the military system for reciting the alphabet, which designates letters with words, beginning with “Able,” “Baker,” “Charlie,” and “Dog.” Again, the tension between her mother and father is evident in a conversation that Gemma relates without authorial commentary.

A year later, after the family’s return to the United States, Gemma’s lessons continued. Her father spoke to her about a variety of topics that she did not then comprehend, but in retrospect, she remembers that they demonstrated her father’s wide-ranging interests. Ironically, when he was assigned to remote areas without his family, Gemma found herself unable to write to him; in retrospect, she realizes how much his physical presence meant to her.

Returning to the time when she was twelve, Gemma recounts additional details about the family’s life at Fort Niagara. The installation has a stately beauty that even the grandmother, no admirer of her son-in-law, found breathtaking. Gemma’s father teaches her the history of the region and the significance of the fort in U.S. history. The highlight of his assignment, however, is a trip to Niagara Falls. Gemma is mesmerized by the falls, and her father enhances the experience by relating stories of several men who had attempted to travel over the falls in various contraptions.

Shifting the focus from her relationship with her father, Gemma relates her own fear and embarrassment at going through puberty. The development of her breasts has come unexpectedly to her, and she becomes convinced she had cancer. Her mother intervenes to save her from further angst, however, by explaining...

(The entire section is 719 words.)