“What Cecilia could do—what she was doing—was holding tight.”
Kathleen Ford provides readers with insight into her story about a young wife waiting for her husband to return from war, “Quickening: Canada, 1915,” from the Spring, 2013 issue of The Antioch Review.
I have been writing stories about World War I soldiers for twenty years. I’m particularly interested in the Irishmen who “took the King’s shilling,” and enlisted in the British Army before the Irish uprising (Easter Rising) in 1916. The Irishmen who were in the military when the war began in 1914, or who joined in the first two years of hostilities, found themselves in an army that was fighting their own countrymen at home.
My interest in Irish soldiers was inspired by my story-telling father who was born in Brooklyn, in 1906. His family was filled with Irish nationalists who’d taken secret oaths to do everything in their power to win Irish freedom. Family lore includes stories about sheltering Eamon deValera in the Brooklyn house when he was a “Man on the Run,” and other stories about traffic lights being hung so the green light was above the orange. (I know this sounds impossible, but I saw such a traffic light in an area of Syracuse, New York called “Dublin Hill.”)
Anyway, how do these interests in World War I and the Irish lead to the short story “Quickening: Canada, 1915,” which is about the pregnant wife of a Canadian soldier? Here’s how I remember it. I was attempting to write a novel, set on a dairy farm in New York and in the trenches of Flanders. The novel’s two main characters would be an Irish-American farmer (Jimmy) and an Irish maid (Cecilia) who had met and fallen in love through a correspondence arranged by a priest. The problem was, I couldn’t get Jimmy to leave a happy marriage to fight in a war alongside the British. And dear Cecilia refused to be unhappy about anything.
My solution was to scrap the heavily Irish part, and move the story to Canada. The Canadians fought under British command in the Great War, and after all, the British army and its soldiers was what I knew best. Secondly, I gave Cecilia the problem of infertility. Now I had an absent husband fighting in the trenches, and an anxious wife who desperately wants to understand what her husband is experiencing. But how can she do that? The answer came in a flash – she would sleep in a trench in order to share, if only in a small way, her husband’s experience. Of course, I needed to add some struggles – the difficult in-laws, the baffled priest, and the bear that inhabits Cecilia’s trash pit.
I had my own struggles writing this story, but I’ll admit, it was also a lot of fun. I was very happy to have it published in The Antioch Review (Spring 2013).
Kathleen Ford’s stories have been published in Redbook, Yankee, Ladies Home Journal, The Virginia Quarterly, The Southern Review, The North American Review, The Sewanee Review and elsewhere. “Man on the Run, first published in The New England Review, was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2012 ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Kathleen’s first novel, Jeffrey County, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Two of her stories won PEN awards for syndicated fiction and another story was anthologized in Cabbage and Bones (Henry Holt). She was awarded a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for 2011. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she teaches Adult ESL and writes stories about the soldiers of World War I. She is completing a novel about the Great War. http://www.kathleenford.net
© 2013 The Antioch Review