Astrid was a considerate person who showed a genuine interest in people and this resulted in the forming of many lifelong friendships. She was faithful and conscientious about keeping close contact with them all. “Each and every person is remarkable. I can meet individuals in the street and find every one of them interesting. They’re all fantastic!”
Even people who perhaps only met her once felt special, and that they really meant something to her. Journalists have said, after their meeting with Astrid, that they ended up answering more questions about themselves than they have asked her, whom they were supposed to be interviewing. Many people who never personally met Astrid exchanged letters with her. She must have been one of the Post Office’s very best private customers, considering all the stamps she bought. All the letters sent to Astrid are kept in the archives at the National Library in Stockholm.
Astrid’s best friend’s name was Anne-Marie, but her nickname was Madicken – a name used by Astrid for one of her main characters. Anne-Marie lived in a house not far from Näs, on the road to Vimmerby. They met as 7 year-olds when Anne-Marie was walking along, rolling a metal hoop beside her and Astrid asked her where she was going. Then Astrid went home with Anne-Marie and after that they became best friends. They played, they climbed, they walked in the forest and built hideaways in the dusty barn. They became “blood-sisters” and promised each other to “never lie, never leave and never betray one another”. According to Astrid they only ever quarrelled once. That was when they were about nine years of age, and it soon passed.
They continued to stay together through their teens and still got up to mischief now and then, even though they were too old to play. For Anne-Marie’s 17th birthday, Astrid and a few other girls came dressed up as suitors come to court her. To be in love and to have somebody in love with you was something that all of the girls were very focused on. Astrid, who did not find it quite as easy as some of her friends, has said: “At that time I completely lost all my senses and from then on had only one interest, as far as I can make out, namely to get as many as possible to fall in love with me. Dear, oh dear, oh dear – that was no easy task, let me tell you!”
In their late teens they were not able to meet quite so often. Astrid lived in Stockholm and Anne-Marie moved first to Linköping and then to Uppsala, but they kept in touch through frequent letters. Eventually, Anne-Marie and her husband Stellan also moved to Stockholm. Astrid and Anne-Marie were now both young mothers and used to walk together through Vasaparken with their prams. During the War, Astrid was employed by the government’s clandestine mail-censorship office in the Special Intelligence Agency. She also managed to get a job there for Anne-Marie. After the War, Astrid made her debut as an author and Anne-Marie was engaged as a lecturer on children’s literature at the same publishing house where Astrid worked as editor and was having her own books published.
They gave speeches at each other’s 80th birthday celebrations in 1987 even though by that time they had started to become a little old and frail. Anne-Marie spent the last two years of her life in hospital and Astrid visited her every week until she passed away in 1991. They had much in common. Their sense of humour, their interest in children, nature and fun games brought them together and they remained close friends all their lives.
Elsa Olenius was one of the jury members at Rabén & Sjögren which awarded Astrid second prize for the book, Britt-Mari lättar sitt hjärta (not translated into English). It was also Elsa who in 1946 suggested that Hans Rabén ought to employ Astrid: “Employ her! She can do office work – even knows how to type and take shorthand, etcetera!” After their first meeting Elsa and Astrid became friends for life. Astrid got to know the whole Olenius family and became the Godmother of one of Elsa’s grandchildren. When Astrid and Elsa grew older they used to like walking around church cemeteries. They played, looked at the names on the tombstones and picked out the plots where they wanted to be buried eventually. They joked about how they were going to run around haunting each other at night.
Marianne Eriksson joined Rabén & Sjögren in 1952 and seven years later she became Astrid’s assistant. Astrid was then responsible for the publication of children’s books. She worked closely with Astrid for twenty years and they became very good friends as well.
Marianne has given her account of how special it was to work alongside Astrid Lindgren: “As a boss and colleague she was incredibly skilled and incredibly kind – full of patience and compassion. We also admired her for being so beautiful and elegant, so witty, educated and intelligent. Moreover, we admired the fact that in spite of being so busy, she would take the time to sit with us in the coffee breaks gossiping about the authors. We loved her for wanting us to forget that she was a great and important author who ought to receive praise every few minutes.”
When Astrid left, Marianne was the one who took over the responsibility for the publisher’s children’s books section.
At the age of 15, Kerstin Kvint started work as a “Girl Friday” in Rabén & Sjögren’s marketing department. She later became Hans Rabén’s secretary and also had a lot to do with overseas sales. From 1982 she worked as Astrid’s personal secretary one day a week, helping with all the correspondence. The workload of reading and answering all the letters that came rolling in – both official mail and letters from private persons – had become impossible to manage alone. This, you understand from Kerstin’s description of her work: “Every day I left Dalagatan laden with that week’s children’s letters and fan-mail. But also with a notepad full of 25 new shorthand messages which had been dictated by Astrid at a furious pace in every conceivable language – from Swedish Småland dialect to English and German.”
Margareta Strömstedt came into Astrid’s life in the sixties when she had been commissioned by Rabén & Sjögren to write a biography of Astrid Lindgren. Working together on the biography was the beginning of a very close friendship. Margareta is the one who has held the most interviews with Astrid, many times on television, and has said this about their dialogue: “For forty years we talked to each other; on the sun-drenched steps to the red house at Näs, at the kitchen bench in the old farm-kitchen, on the veranda in Furusund and in the living-room at Dalagatan.”
The friendship with Margareta soon included the entire Strömstedt family, and Astrid was a frequent guest in their home. Not only did she get to know Margareta’s husband, Bo Strömstedt, but she also developed a friendship with her sister, Lisa Henriksson. Sometimes the three of them would get together and sing. Astrid was always invited to the Strömstedt family birthday celebrations and the children knew her so well that it took several years before they realised that “Aunt Astrid” and the famous author were one and the same person. The birthday song, “What party trick is this?”, sung in the film about Lotta on Troublemaker Street, was written by Margareta and sung in their home.
All the others
Among those who got to know Astrid, many got a friend for life. The close, loving relationship between the four Ericsson children always remained. And when Gullan, Astrid’s sister-in-law married Gunnar and was added to the family, naturally she was included, too.
Gerda Nordlund, nicknamed, “Nolle” by the family, began as housekeeper to the Lindgrens in the early fifties. She was an excellent cook and looked after just about everything in the home. Over the twenty years working for Astrid there were many opportunities to talk. Anders Öhman met Astrid for the first time in 1963 when she was voted into the literary society called “The Nine”. In his capacity as a lawyer he also helped her later on with various business agreements. Olle Hellbom who directed most of her films was a much appreciated friend and co-worker for 25 years. Astrid and Tage Danielsson, who directed Ronja The Robber’s Daughter, hit it off immediately. Unfortunately, there were not to be any more joint projects and his passing caused Astrid great sorrow.
Astrid seemed to have a special gift for making friends. Even in the professional sphere she would often get quite close to people; publishers, illustrators and others whom she met in the course of her working life. Over the years she acquired a great many friends – it would be impossible to mention them all.