Cider With Rosie
Open Road Media
When I opened the email last month, it was clear I’d missed out. According to Amazon’s Daily Deal blurb Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie was “an instant classic when it was first published in 1959 [and] one of the most endearing and evocative portraits of youth in all of literature”. Now because I worked for several years in a book store, I’m at least familiar with many more titles and authors than I’ve read. So one would think I’d at least heard of this Laurie Lee who “learned to look at life with a painter’s eye and a poet’s heart—qualities of vision that, decades later, would make him one of England’s most cherished authors”.
Of course, I had to remedy this oversight, so one-click order I did and was soon settled into a memoir of one of England’s beloved sons I hadn’t even known existed. But after the first chapter, I admit I didn’t know if it was love or hate.
Three-year-old Laurie sits on the floor of his new home amidst the chaos of moving a family of seven into a new cottage in the village of Slad. Little Laurie was surrounded by “glass fishes, china dogs, shepherds and shepherdesses, bronze horsemen, stopped clocks, barometers, and photographs of bearded men”. His sisters and mother bustle in and out of the house; his brothers help unload the handcart. Lee’s prose was over-rich, I thought—awash in adjectives and adverbs; drowning in lists. I almost put the memoir aside.
But after another chapter, Lee grew on me. His rich narrative seemed to mirror the lush countryside and the hub-bub that was his home. I settled into those lists and that descriptive prose. Like this: “That kitchen, worn by our boots and lives, was scruffy, warm, and low, whose fuss of furniture seemed never the same but was shuffled each day” and this: “These were the … rocks of our submarine life, each object worn smooth by our constant nuzzling, or encrusted by lively barnacles, relics of birthdays and dead relations, wrecks of furniture long since foundered …” It’s definitely not my style and not what I’d usually choose, but I’m happy I did.
Cider With Rosie let me peek into a world that no longer exists—grannies who lived as neighbors for decades, yet
never spoke; sisters who decorated their hats with bits and bobs; a picnic caravanned to a just perfect spot in the woods; a school teacher quick to smack boys upside the head; sleeping five to a room in quilt-deep beds; a bottle of shared cider and a stolen kiss under a field wagon.
Lee went on to write two more memoirs of his life and a few books of poetry. I was able to find a wonderful interview with Lee on the BBC—his recollections follow the book closely—which makes a great companion listen.
Cider With Rosie should probably be read when the time is just right, like a hazy summer afternoon or a blustery winter night … or anytime, really, when the edges of the world outside become blurred and you could oh-so-easily fade into the English countryside.