Interview with Stellan's mother -  Gudrun Skarsgård

Source: Sveriges Radio (2010)

We are going to talk with Gudrun Skarsgård about how she’s been struggling with an illness since she was a child, and how she, 80 years old, is enjoying her life. We will also follow her to the place where every day she meets several of her children and grandchildren. Katarina Hahr meets her at home in Stockholm in the apartment where she lives with one of her sons.

K- I’m standing in the elevator in a house built in the 80′s at Söder in Stockholm. I’m about to meet Gudrun Skarsgård. Mother of five, and just turned 80 years old. With me, I have her extra-son, Johan. They have known each other since he was just one years old, and every day he takes Gudrun out on a walk. I have long wondered who this elegant woman is, who goes by the name "The Queen of Medborgarplatsen".

K-What a big and nice apartment.

G-Yes, it’s very good. I live together with my son, and…

K-One of your sons.

G-Yes, that’s right. The second youngest. And now, his lady lives here, too.

K-But it sounds like you think that's fun.

G-Yes, I do. I’m so spoiled, I have a lot of people around me all the time. I don’t have to, like a lot of other old people, have the lonliness like a ghost hanging around. I have a social life, and every day Johan comes and take me out for a trip. You could say that he consider himself  my eldest son. He’s one year older than Stellan. And he takes an elder women in a wheelchair down to get a beer every day. There is a.. do you know what is told in the Most Noble Order of the Garter?

K- No…

G- "Honi soit qui mal y pense" – "shame upon him who thinks evil upon it". It is. I’ve done my share, and I can do what I want the rest of my life.

K-You say, that you are 80 now and you do what you want, but in the beginning, how did you grow up?

G-Ehm… back then you weren’t allowed to do what you wanted. (laughs) I grew up… My father was a sea captain, so there wasn’t in reality a father at home… In that time, the boats were on long voyages, and he could be away for two years at a time. When I met him the first time I was two years old, and I thought awfully bad of him because he took my place with my mother. We were six kids, and I was the second youngest. My oldest brother didn’t become older than 19-20 years, and he died in TB. That was the disease people had at that time. And that’s when I got infected too. So I got TB when I was about 6 years old… so… I was hospitalized for almost two years. More or less, all the time…

K-But, what do you remember from that?

G-I remember the company of other sick children. We were like 16 kids in every room, and I remember an awful person that ruled our room, who actually tortured us…

K-In what way?

G-Ehm… you know, we did get fever, which you get now and then from TB, and then we were punished. We had to sit in the toilet, while she played music for the other children. Just because you’ve got fever! Or when you threw up, and had to eat your spews up.

K-Is that true?

G-Yes, it’s true! I didn’t dare to tell anyone, meanwhile I was nursed there, but when I was leaving, I told my mother, who was a friend of the women who was the supervisor of the clinic, and there was a big fuss about it. But what happened to this women, she was German, and pronounced my name Guth-run. She was moved from the clinic, but I assume she was put somewhere else, where she could abuse children…

K-How has this affected you?

G-Ehm… I have a big issue with authorities…I think… it might be an amount of obstinacy… that have followed me… Today, I don't have to do that anymore (laughs) , but when I was in school and such… I was no convenient pupil… I went to a girls school, and I often ended up in the principal's office. But we liked each other, the principal and I. That worked out well.

K-You had an issue with authorities, but at the same time you could socialize with authorities?

G-Yes, if we were on the same conditions, so to say. Not when treated from above, and down… When you horsed around at that time, you could to that in a different way, then now, since you weren’t covered the same way that kids are today. We had backyards, and what we did back there, our parents had no clue about.

K-You mean, that today parents know more?

G-Oh, yes! Today, a child can hardly escape from these hawkeyes that are everywhere! There are kindergarten staff, teachers and parents, so… it’s first when you are a teenager and can start sneak out at town, that the parents can’t keep an eye on you anymore.

K-Do you think that it might be a bad thing?

G-Sometimes I think that it’s a little too much surveillance…but… maybe the world is more dangerous today, then it was back then…I don’t know…

K-But what about when you grew up and became a mother? Or an adult? What did you do after school?

G-I didn’t have time to do so much… I got pregnant when I was 20, so now you understand what I did.

K-But that wasn’t so young at the time? 20?

G-No, but my husband, Jan, was my guardian for two months.

K-What kind of man was he?

G-Jan? He was a strange man. He was the worlds worst economist, but he was an educated economist (laugh), but couldn’t handle money. (laughs)  And then, it went the way it went. Five kids. That’s nothing you handle, just like that. He was a very funny man. Very interesting.. He needed a strong women, and that he got.

K-Why did he need that?

G-He needed to be controlled. He took life very easy… sometimes a little too easy… so he needed someone who held him back.. and that was my job.

K-But did you let your children, bee rather free?

G-Yes, you can’t look after five kids.

K-But weren’t you worried?

G-No… not so much… What does that help? We lived nearby a former limestone quarry, , now filled with water, so there were like lakes. And it was forbidden to play there, but it became, my daughter almost fell in there, of course they played there anyway! You can’t look after them all the time, in that case you have to put them in chains.

K-I’m thinking, having five kids, and have that attitude, that you can’t worry about them all the time… but what worries you?

G- Today?

K-Today, or then… as a human?

G-I’m not an anxious person.. and I don’t paint the Devil on the wall. No… maybe it’s because I don’t have enough imagination… I don’t know… But… when people around you, get sick or so… that’s serious things, and you think a lot of it…and what’s going to happen…

K-The TB, you got when you were young, you seems so strong, and you’ve lived until you’re 80, so you must have done pretty well?

G-Yes, I have. I had a relapse at 55. I had just given birth to my daughter, and I got nursed, so I never got to breast-feed her. Se came home when she was four months old. She wasn’t allowed to be at home, so they took her from me, at the maternity hospital.

K-How did that feel?

G-That wasn’t fun at all. It was hard… And it wasn’t good. It haven’t been good for neither her or for me. There have been difficulties, and I’m sure it was affected with this. I can see that today.

K-Can you talk about it?

G-No… it’s nothing we talk about…It’s working good now. She has her own family now, and I don’t feel that there is any hate or dissatisfaction from her now.

K-This host of siblings, with 5 kids, weren’t you tired all the time?

G-No, but do you know what I’m truly amazed over, and find hard to understand, or take the pride for?! It’s how close these five children are to each other!

K-But you say that you weren’t tired?! It must have been a lot of food to cook, a lot of dishes, a lot of clothes to wash, and long days?

G-But you know, at that time, kids played outside all days. They were never at home. We had a set time for meals, and you had to be home by then, but otherwise they were not home… And I didn’t know all the time what they were doing.

K-When did they start leaving home at the days?

G-Well… since they started school, they were never at home. (laughs) And you know, when they start school or kindergarten now, you have to acclimatize them at school for like 14 days or so, that would never had worked with five kids. Imagine nowadays, when you have to drag five kids to kindergarten and all strange things they have today. It’s so much harder to have five kids today.

K-But in a way, it was almost like kindergarten at your house?

G-Yes, with five kids, and every kid brought a friend! People actually thought that our home was an orphanage.

K-Was it you that planted the thought of a career in acting with Stellan? I mean, he was so young.

G-No, it wasn’t. Jan was the one, who wanted to be an actor, himself! But he wasn’t allowed, because it wasn’t good enough. Among academics, it was considered trickery, and you were supposed to have an academic education, and that’s he got into economics. But he had the desire… He really wanted to be an actor… But he had the talent, so I have to say, it is from him, the talent is inherited. Also, I’m a very ingenuous person, and when you raise kids with that attitude, maybe it’s easier to get actors in your family, then if you hold them back and raise them with anxiety… I don’t think that creates a lot of free spirits…Actors…

K-Do you think that Jan realized that Stellan had the talent?

G-Yes, I think so. The silly thing was, when they were casting "Bombi Bitt", Stellan was really excited. He, and his brother Kjettil, both wrote a letter for the part.

K-What did you think then? Were you worried about them missing school?

G-No, no, no! That came later. I didn’t believe that they had any chance to get the part! But Stellan never posted his letter. He just wrote it, and then left it on his desk. But his brother posted both letters but didn’t get the part since it went to his brother, Stellan. But it was festive for all of them, anyway. Imagine the fuss when Stellan worked as a young actor. There was press and lots of other people who wanted to get in touch with him.

K-And, Jan, what did he think of it?

G-He thought it was great, and of course he was really proud of him. Maybe he even thought that "Oh man, why didn’t I get the chance to do this?"

K-You have never been hard with your kids, and told them they have to study and become academics or so?

G-No… I don’t think so…

K-But what have you been hard with? They had to have some responsibilities?

G-They had to take responsibility for their school work. I never asked them if they did their homework or read with them. That was their job, and they had to manage it.

K-What did you do if they didn’t?

G-They did! The only one who didn’t do that, for some time was my daughter. Then I took her out of school. I told her that we don’t pay taxes to be used for your negligence. And she got to start over later when she felt mature enough to do it. I believe a lot in that you have to take responsibility for yourself.

K-I believe someone told me that you started working at Stockholm’s nursing home as a nurse’s assistant, and you left as the chief of staff?

G-Yes, not really, but I was responsible for hiring and firing. Well, I’d decided to move to Stockholm, when Jan and I divorced.

K-You were divorced?

G-Yes, and we re-married too, to be safe, so there were no big tragedy. We had… you could call it a schism. So.. I was about to change domicile, and the best way to do that was to move to Stockholm. I had five kids, and most of them were to end up around Stockholm, I figured. So, I decided to move there, and then I needed somewhere to live. So I talked to Stockholm’s nursing home and said, I’m coming up to work for you, and I need a room in the staff’s house. And they did. So I started there as a nurse’s assistant, and became main safety representative. I became an important person in that subject, and later on I became responsible for all the safety representative work in Stockholm and it’s neighborhood, in the private nursing sector. There was a hundred of small places to look after. I worked with that for a lot of years, and then I became staff assistant at Stockholm’s nursing home. How strange! (laughs)

K-Do you think that your issue with authorities is why you weren’t afraid to take negotiations and discussions?

G-Of course! You have to be cocky if you don’t want to give the autorities the chance to push you down!

K-But where is the line, so people doesn’t start thinking that you are annoying?

G-(laughs) I’m not the right person to talk about that. (laughs) I don’t know… I’m sure there are a lot of people who think that I’m annoying.

K-But you don’t care so much, do you?

G-No… I can’t walk around wondering if people think I’m annoying. If they do, they have to tell me. I can’t go around asking if people find me annoying. No… I’m not a person who walks around and apologizes for my existence.

K-Is that something you’ve carried with you all your life or something that came with age?

G-No, that’s something that I’ve had all my life, and I think a lot of it comes from the time when I was hospitalized, when we were harassed. Not to be ruled by authorities..

K-You’re used to get out about this time?

G-Yes, please.

K-I notice that Gudrun is getting a little restless, and wants to get out in the sun. Johan, her extra-son, comes to help her out. He drives her in her wheelchair down to Medborgarplatsen. There she sits, every day, at the same time, and all of her children, and grandchildren and good friends, that are at home, come to join her.

K-Now we are at your favorite places?

G-Yes we are. Medborgarplatsen has a lot of great beer gardens.

K-I was thinking about what you said about being alone. You don’t consider yourself lonely?

G-No, I’m not lonely. But when you talk about old people, you talk a lot about loneliness too.

K-And now we’re sitting here with… Can you tell us who are here today?

G-Yes, there’s my eldest son, Stellan, and son number two, Kjettil, son number four, Torbjörn, and Johan Günther, who you can say is sort of my son too. He’s my extra son, and he’s really good at driving the wheelchair.

K-I get the impression that you like sitting here in the middle.

G-Of course! Who wouldn’t?! You would like it too.

K-But, haven’t you always been in the center?

G-Well… yes…hm…

Stellan-There’s a difference between being in the center, or being the center!

G-(laughs) If I’m too modest about this, they are going to laugh at me. (laughs) But for sure… I’ve taken space. I have a lot of men around me. I’ve only got one daughter, and she doesn’t need that much support, but men, they need all kinds of support from us women. So I’ve had to work hard. (laughs)