Christine Power from Stalybridge, near Manchester in England, and Stockholm-based nurse Christina Hesselbäck, have been writing to each other since the age of 11.
The friendship began when Hesselbäck sent a letter to a Manchester school, after encouragement from her father and a teacher, who hoped it would help her to practice her English skills. Power’s teacher instructed the class to write back if they wanted to — and the then 11-year-old did.
“When I started writing to Christine, I was almost crying as I thought I couldn’t do it but my dad said, ‘Yes you can',” Hesselbäck remembered.
That was in 1968, and despite the invention of mobile phones, email, Skype and FaceTime in the years since, the pair still keep in touch through letter-writing — and have also visited each other several times, with Hesselbäck first travelling to Manchester in 1976.
“Even though I had just met Christine, it felt like home,” said the nurse, who made her tenth visit to the UK in late May for the wedding of Power's son.
For Hesselbäck's recent 60th birthday, Power sent her the first letter, the first envelope and images of their trips to this country and Sweden over the years. Photo: Gary Carter
As for why the duo have stuck to writing letters rather than using modern technology to keep in touch, Hesselbäck said: “I just think it’s more personal. I’ve always kept the first letter in a special place, an old cupboard that I’ve got at home which is where it’s stored. It’s been great as we’re both the same kind of person.”
“I still got excited when I receive a letter and can tell it’s Christine’s handwriting, which I can recognize,” she explained. Though the friends use email or text to discuss travel arrangements, in general she said “there’s no rush to communicate, so writing is best”.
Power said she had “no knowledge of Sweden whatsoever” before the two became penpals.
Her first visit took place in 1977 and lasted two weeks, and since then she has returned several times. “Sweden seemed like miles away when really its only just over two hours away by plane,” she said. “When we go to Sweden, we hardly ever stay in a hotel. It's always with Christina and (her husband) Jimmy.”
Interview by Gary Carter, a reporter based in Greater Manchester