Will there ever be such summers again as the ones we knew when we were small?
What summers they were, summers that never ended, stretched out in the shimmering haze of the endless sky, summers when even the bees faded to the drowsiest hum, hardly able to lift their heavy load of pollen to tumble drunkenly amongst the blooms in the golden gorse on the railway embankment . The games we played there or in fragrant swathes of camomile on the banks of the stream hardly mattered, we were soon overcome by the heat and lay in the tall grass, talking and boasting, inventing tall tales, as only innocent children will. And when we had even tired of that, we just lay back and watched bugs and beetles crawl up the grass stem next to our face, the insects, like us, wanting to get out of the shadows, to bask in the sun.
We had been sent to collect the flowers of the camomile plant, a herb useful in many ways. The flower heads were dried in the attic, on wooden boards, which, come autumn, would hold apples and pears for winter storage. The pleasant smell quickly became all-pervasive, an integral part of home.
Camomile was used as a panacea for all ills as well as a herbal tea. For colds and coughs, flu and fevers, via tummy aches, constipation and haemorrhoids, to inflammations, infections, as a diuretic and 'blood cleanser' as well as a refreshing drink, camomile tinctures, mixed with grease as a cream and in sachets for hot and cold compresses, were an absolute necessity in the German housewife's household pharmacopeia.
The Saints help the child who came home without its bag, stitched together from an old cotton tea cloth, filled with the heads of camomile plants. Cheating was not allowed, stems were not wanted. We were sent out to gather the herb for weeks, on as many sunny days as there were, from the end of June to the middle of July, the time of ripening. At weekends the adults came too, it was classified as a family outing for a useful purpose. What is known as 'quality time' nowadays, I suppose.
We were out for many hours on our own, picking not just the herb, but also poppies, cornflowers and daisies. By the time we arrived home, the bunches of flowers wilted, we children were happily tired out and intoxicated with freedom and summer.