“If anyone asks me what I remember from my childhood, my first thought is actually not of the people. But of that beautiful environment which framed my days then and filled them with such intensity, that as a grown-up you can hardly comprehend it. Wild strawberries among the rocks, carpets of blue spring flowers, meadows full of cowslips, special places where blueberries could be found, the forest where dainty pink flowers were nestling in the moss, the paddocks around Näs where we knew every little path and every little stone, the creek with the water lilies, ditches, streams and trees – I remember all this more than the people.”
Their natural surroundings were not only their playground – it also assisted their imagination and served as the basis for the games they would create. It was the same with the songs and prayers they learned. These would continue into and find their physical expression in their games.
The wonderful, magical games
“How we played, the four of us! From morning till night. Tirelessly, with great exuberance and joy – sometimes endangering our lives – not that we were aware of it. We climbed the tallest of trees and jumped between the stacks of planks up at the saw mill. We balanced along the ridge of our roof – it was quite high – and had we missed our footing, I’m afraid that would’ve put a stop to our games forever.”
One of the games often played by the children at Näs was called “don’t step on the floor”. Then the children, joined by any friends on the property, would clamber all around the bedroom without ever once touching the floor. This was exactly what Astrid would have Pippi, Tommy and Annika do, much later, in Villekulla Cottage. “From the office door you scrambled onto the sofa, from there to the kitchen door, then to the dressing-table, from the dressing-table to the desk, then onto daddy’s bed, from there to an upholstered pouf – which had to be moved to the lounge-room doorway – then over to the open fireplace and back to the office door.”
Another game that Astrid and Gunnar played was called “what a blow”. The way they played it was that they ran from opposite ends of the house, through all the rooms, meeting up in the kitchen where they poked each other in the stomach shouting “what a blow!” This game turns up again in the books about Emil and Ida.
The games went away and our childhood was over
At Näs there was an old elm tree which Astrid and her siblings called “the Owl Tree”. It was hollow and the children used to play in it. Once, Gunnar climbed up that tree with a chicken’s egg. He put the egg in an owl’s nest. After 21 days he found a newly hatched chick in the nest for which his mother later paid 75 öre. Astrid retells this story in All About the Bullerby Children where Pip succeeds in doing the same thing as Gunnar.
But being a child on a farm at the beginning of the last century also meant hard work. Turnips had to be planted out, nettles ripped up and harvests brought in. Everyone was involved in those necessary chores on the farm – the hired hand’s children as well as the land-owner’s children. “We were of course brought up in ‘the fear and admonition of the Lord’, as was the custom of the times, but in our playtime we were delightfully free and never supervised. And we played and played and played. It’s a wonder we didn’t play ourselves to death!”
Astrid has said that she remembered afterwards so clearly when her childhood came to an end, and how awful it was to realise that one could no longer play. “I remember it so well. We always used to play with the priest’s granddaughter when she came to Näs in the holidays. But one summer’s day, when she came and we were going to start playing as usual, we suddenly discovered that we couldn’t play any more. It just didn’t work. It felt odd and sad, because what would we do if we couldn’t play?”