Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
published 1959 set in the 1920s
[The young Laurie meets Rosie in the fields at harvest-time]
I stumbled on Rosie behind a haycock, and she grinned up at me with the sly, glittering eyes of her mother. She wore her tartan frock and cheap brass necklace, and her bare legs were brown with hay-dust… Rosie had grown and was hefty now, and I was terrified of her. In her cat-like eyes and curling mouth I saw unnatural wisdoms more threatening than anything I could imagine. The last time we’d met I’d hit her with a cabbage stump. She bore me no grudge, just grinned…
We went a long way, to the bottom of the field, where a wagon stood half-loaded. Festoons of untrimmed grass hung down like curtains all around it. We crawled underneath, between the wheels, into a herb-scented cave of darkness. Rosie scratched about, turned over a sack, and revealed a stone jar of cider….
Then Rosie, with a remorseless, reedy strength, pulled me down… and it seemed that the wagon under which we lay went floating away like a barge, out over the valley where we rocked unseen, swinging on motionless tides…
observations: This beguiling memoir of a childhood in rural England is full of charm, and while it appears artless, Lee was a poet, artist and musician, and certainly knew what he was doing – this chapter is full of symbolism of apples, fertility and harvest. But it is also a gorgeous description of a first sexual experience, absolutely beautifully done, and in a manner which is more reminiscent of female writing on the subject – and none the worse for that. The book was being taught in British schools in the 1970s – very surprising for a book containing a sex scene (however tasteful), by a living author, first published so recently – and yes, everyone loved the sexy bits, though it is to be hoped that they stayed to enjoy the rest. Rosie ‘took off her boots and stuffed them with flowers …[and] did the same with mine’ and later walks out from their hiding-place, carrying her boots and smiling. What an image.
Links up with: More village life with Miss Read, and with the widow Fran. Another sexy Rosie here. Two children in tartan here and here.
The picture is from George Eastman House, via Flickr.