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- May 06, 1985
- Vol. 23
- No. 18
John Lennon's Sister Julia Breaks Silence to Tell of the Brother She Loved and Lost
The John Lennon I knew was a family man. He didn't just enter our lives all of a sudden. He was there from the very beginning. Looking back, it might seem a strange arrangement, with John living with Aunt Mimi and the two of us living with Mummy, but at the time we thought nothing of it. It was many years before I became aware that brothers normally stayed at home all the time. Ours stayed home at odd weekends and holidays. He would appear for tea after school, and by the time we'd gone to bed and gotten up the next morning, he'd be gone.
My mother fell in love early on in life and was determined to marry her childhood sweetheart, Alfred Lennon. They did marry [in December 1938], and on Oct. 9, 1940 John was born. He was called John Winston on account of my mother's admiration for Winston Churchill. In December 1943 Alfred, a ship's waiter, jumped ship in America, deserting mother and baby John. I never met Alfred and didn't know he existed for years. He reappeared when John was about 5 and took him to Blackpool for a holiday. Mummy found out and she went to get John back. A confrontation followed, and she took John home. [Lennon never saw his father again until he showed up broke at John's country mansion 18 years later, after the Beatles had achieved worldwide fame.]
When he was 6, however, John went to live permanently with my mother's sister Mimi. Now I've recently learned that Mummy had another girl and had her adopted before she met my father, John Dykins. If anyone had told me that before, I would have denied it. We in the family knew nothing, but last year Ray Coleman mentioned it in his biography of John [Lennon, McGraw-Hill, $19.95]. It must have nearly killed Mummy to let that baby go. I know this from how she raised us. So she did the best thing she could for John by giving him security, stability and a strong mother and father figure in Mimi and her husband George [a Liverpool dairyman], who both loved him. And I know John loved them in return.
As he grew older, John would stay with us more often. He and Daddy got along well enough, and in the evenings when our daddy, a headwaiter, was at work, John and Mummy would sit together and listen to records. She was an Elvis Presley fan from the word go, and she and John would jive around the room to Heartbreak Hotel and other great Elvis songs. John inherited his love of music from her, and she encouraged him to start with piano and banjo, making him play a tune again and again until he got it right.
Soon John started bringing friends like Pete Shotton and Ivan Vaughan home with him for musical sessions in the bathroom. They thought it was the best place as the tiles produced echoes. My mother didn't mind a bit. She wanted to see John as much as she could, and if that was the way to have him, so be it. She was passionately fond of him. I remember once when John was with both Mummy and Mimi and he said, "I do love you, Mummy," and then he turned to Mimi and said, "But I do love you too."
We were a happy family. I remember John took us to two of Elvis Presley's movies, Loving You and Love Me Tender. But taking two younger sisters to the pictures was not John's ideal way of spending an afternoon. On both occasions, we were abandoned after the movie. We watched the film again, then John came back. A quick shove on the swing, the fastest swirl on the merry-go-round, and then he took us home. Mother was informed he had entertained us in the park, and no doubt gave him much praise. We never let on. Mummy was adorable and lovely, always laughing. When she was killed [by a car in 1958], our lives would never be the same again.
My father fell completely to bits, and we were sent to live with Mother's youngest sister, Harriet. We saw John less because he'd gone off to art school in Liverpool, thanks to Mimi, but he'd come around still and sneak in the window to use the telephone. He also started bringing his girlfriend Cynthia Powell around to watch television and drink tea in the evenings. Then suddenly he was married and a baby arrived, John Charles Julian. We sometimes looked after Julian while John and Cynthia went on out.
We finally did see some results from those musical practice sessions in the bathroom. We listened to John's demo discs of Love Me Do and Please Please Me and were excited by the success of the Beatles. But as he succeeded, so John seemed to depart from us, and after he hit America he went from view. We read of his exploits like everybody else. We did pay him one memorable visit in Weybridge, Surrey, near London. He hadn't passed his driver's test, but he drove us all over a golf course in a new white Mini. "It doesn't matter," he laughed. "I'm a Beatle." He was just joking, and I think the full impact of what it meant had only just hit him.
During that visit Cynthia took us to shops and bought us anything we wanted, just wrote out a check. We almost became frightened to look at anything too long. The whole family liked Cynthia. I have nothing to say about Yoko Ono [Lennon's second wife, who inherited the bulk of his multimillion-dollar fortune]. I have never met her and have no relationship with her. I spoke to her on the phone once, and she once wrote a letter from New York, just general chitchat about John's condition. In 1970 she and John paid a visit to Aunt Harriet, who came out with this great leg of lamb for dinner. Yoko simply announced that they were not eating that sort of thing because they were on some sort of macrobiotic diet. She spent most of the visit in the kitchen chopping and slicing up things like carrots.
In 1975 I hadn't heard from John in five years, when an aunt called and said he'd been trying to reach Jacqui and me. She gave us his hot-line number in New York. It was like trying to get in touch with God. There were lots of strange noises and an American girl saying "hello, hello." She wanted to know who I was. I said I was John's sister and told her my name. She asked me my father's name. I told her. Then she wanted to know where we used to live. It was too much for me and I said, "Forget it—"and suddenly John was on the line. "Don't put the phone down," he yelled. "It's me! If you only knew how many 'sisters' I had...."
We talked for hours, a tearful, delirious reunion by phone. We both reveled in the memories, the sunny days, the idiotic humor, the tragedy of [mother's] death. He said, "I've been wanting a family, and I've had one all along." There were many calls after that, lasting hours, talking of Mummy mostly, and of Mimi. He'd reached an age, particularly with the birth of his son Sean, when he needed a family. He wanted old family photographs, memorabilia of his childhood now that he had a child. I'm sure he talked to Sean about Mummy quite a lot.
On one occasion he asked me to go see Julian. He kept asking, but I hadn't seen Cynthia in a long time and didn't want to go. "Julian hasn't been in contact" is what he said to me. Eventually, it was my former husband who made me go, saying John had never asked for anything before. In actual fact, he had all my precious photographs! Eventually, though, we lost touch again. I was moving and I had another child. In November 1980 we'd heard that John was planning to return to England. I knew if he came he'd want to see the whole family, and we were very much looking forward to seeing him.
When I heard about his death on the news, I just couldn't believe it. I hadn't seen him in years, but when he died, it was like having an arm cut off. John was not destroyed by success as some had been. He was emerging as a true musician whose finest resources had hardly been tapped. He still had a lot to offer the world as a mature genius.
But I mourned him as my brother, John. Like us, he missed our mother. When I hear his song Julia on the Beatles' White Album, I still get upset. He once told me over the phone that he was glad I was called Julia. He had Julian too, so the name would be carried on. But you never really recover from a mother's death. She was the central point of our lives, and no matter how hard you try, she can't be replaced.
Now John is gone too. We miss him. We miss them both.
November 23, 2015
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