Friday, June 20, 2008

The Private John Lennon: The Untold Story from His Sister

by Julia Baird

In this moving memoir, John Lennon's sister Julia finally reveals the family's painful, difficult and rare happy times. Here is the inside story of their deep tensions and John's troubled upbringing by his aunt--showing the cruel consequences of five-year-old John being taken from his mother's custody.

Often at dramatic odds with the accepted tale, The Private John Lennon offers an unflinching look at the vivid contrast between his aunt's restrictive parenting and his mother's free attitude towards life. Julia tells of John's frequent visits to his mother's home and how they provided him the love and freedom to develop his musical talents. Later, the author holds nothing back as she recounts how she and 17-year-old John confronted their mother's sudden and tragic death in an automobile accident.

The Private John Lennon's portrayal of a torn and lonely upbringing casts new light on the source of John's emotional fragility and musical genius. Poignant, raw and beautifully written, it is an extraordinary story of how John Lennon and his family dealt with the terrible series of tragedies that ultimately culminated in his violent death.

Excerpt: Reflecting Mummy

I must be about seven years old. I am sitting astride my mother's bony hips, with my arms wrapped tightly around her neck, and her arms clench my waist, wrapping me tight, tight. Our faces are pressed together, cheek to cheek. We are smiling at one another in the mirror. Every now and then, my mother has to tug me up, to stop me sliding to the floor. We are holding our faces together. I can feel the warmth, skin on skin, and a tingling sensation. She is singing to me. I must have heard words then, but no matter how hard I try, they evade me now. I can feel the sound as la-la and hmm, hmm. I can feel my mother, I can smell her. She is mine, for this time. For too short a time. Mine.

I am so happy. It is one of those special spaces in your life when you know and understand reality, while knowing and understanding nothing. I want to stay in that place. I want it to be a bottomless chasm, where I can go on and on falling but not falling apart.

I can still call my mother to me. Sometimes, I dream her. When I do, I don't want ot miss anything, not a nuance, not a smile, not a squeeze. I try not to rush it, although I am in a hurry to be there, in the kitchen, looking into the mirror which hangs on a nail, over the sink, in the middle of the long window with the small panes. A window with blue frames and with blue gingham curtains on a wire. We can see the garden, trees blowing in the wind, and sometimes a bird will fly past, which makes us smile. The gas rings are burning on the cooker, keeping the kitchen warm. The sights, smells and sounds mingle with Mummy's. I am breathing my Mummy. It is hauntingly, almost painfully beautiful and then unfailingly, heartbreakingly sad. She fades away, she just fades away. I can't feel the bones in her hips. My arms are holding air. I look and look into the magic mirror with intensity and despair as her cheeks melt away from mine. My lovely Mummy leaves me. My sanity and my insanity. Having her. Not having her. Loving her. Losing her.

Having my mother, loving her so deeply and then losing her has given me my most intense happiness and my most bereft sadness. Like any child who has lost a beloved parent while still very young, the happiness and sadness of her memory are inextricably linked.

When I had her, I wasn't aware that things could change. Like any child I was simply living life, as I had always known it. You don't know that life can be snuffed out in the blink of an eye, until it happens.

I was eleven years old when my world turned inside out; when my mother, after whom I was named, was killed when she was hit by a car on a July evening in 1958. From that moment on my sister and I became problems to be solved in a family that had little room or time for us. In a world empty of the one person we longed for most, we learned that we had little worth; once loved children, we became nuisances to be tolerated by aunts who saw it as a duty to look after us.

I am a middle child. My brother John was seventeen when our mother died, and my sister Jackie was eight. Even when I discovered the existence of another sister I was still a middle child because she was younger than John but older than me. Our mother called her Victoria Elizabeth for the six weeks that she had her, but she was taken away for adoption and grew up as Ingrid. She became one of our family's secrets. Discovering the secret of the other child, the child apart, triggers instability, no matter which child you are and no matter what your age and maturity. It raises feelings hitherto unknown--raw feelings--and leaves you dangling there. It challenges your ideas of who you are and even who you thought you were and who you might be tomorrow and why . . . just as the paint is drying on your self-image, again, a careless brush sweeps across it and makes a mess.

But all that was to come much later. I grew up knowing only that Jackie and I lived with our parents and that my older brother came to see us often and stayed as much as he could. John lived with my mother's older sister Mimi, and we lived in Springwood, Allerton, a suburb of Liverpool, in a three-bedroom house, on a council estate. When John stayed the night, Jackie slept with me in the double bed in my room. That's probably why I had it . . . I spent a lot of time sharing that bed.

We went to live in the Springwood house in 1949, when I was two and a half and not long before Jackie's birth. The story of how we ended up there, and how my mother ended up with two children who lived with her, one who lived there part-time and another who lived in another place completely, secretly, is the story of my mother's struggle against society and family. A tale full of anguish and fear, desperation and helplessness, but also great courage.

My mother's story, and ours, is also the story of the early lief and background of the genius who was John Winston Lennon, who became John Ono Lennon, but who never stopped being just John, my big brother.

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