Imagine This: growing up with my brother John Lennon is the second book by Julia Baird, John’s half-sister, from 2007. Her first book was the slight John Lennon, My Brother from 1988. She and John shared the same mother yet John spent most of his childhood and teen years with his Aunt Mimi, his mother Julia’s sister. In this later book Baird wrote with more detail about her childhood in Liverpool. Some of this detail, I am sorry to say, was boring and seemed like page filler. I endured an entire chapter on all the playground games she enjoyed as a young girl. Yet in the nineteen years since the publication of her first book, elderly family members exposed some long-suppressed secrets that Baird had never known. These revelations completely changed her perspective on some of her relatives. The most striking were those about Aunt Mimi, who was not the saint Beatle lore would have you believe she was. According to Mimi’s last surviving sister Anne, who spilled secrets before she died in 1997, Mimi did not agree to take care of her young nephew John because his mother was not able to. The story we have been led to believe is that Julia Lennon was too much of a party girl, having had four children by three different men and not even a house to call her own. She fobbed off her son to her older sister so she could continue her partying ways. In this book, Baird rehabilitates her mother’s reputation by tarring her Aunt Mimi as the family tyrant who sat on her throne judging people and shaking her finger at those who “lived in sin”. She believed that her sister was an unfit mother and decided, herself, to remove John from Julia’s care. She marched over and snatched John away and forbade his mother from seeing him. As John grew older and more independent he flouted Mimi’s rules and saw his mother and half-sisters more regularly. Since John Dykins, the father of Baird and her sister Jackie had not been married to their mother, after the death of Julia he was cut out of their lives, yet never abandoned them. Mimi just made it extremely hard for Dykins, who still had to continue working, to see his two children.
Further revelations about Mimi were that she carried on an affair after she was widowed with one of her young lodgers. The one I found hardest to believe was that she remained a virgin throughout her marriage. What man marries a woman knowing this in advance? And if he didn’t, why wouldn’t he divorce her, if perhaps he wanted children? I do not believe this about Mimi. Further research shows that Anne died in 1988, not 1997, although there is a photo of her in one of the two photo spreads showing her purportedly from “the early 1990s”.
At the end of the book Baird wrote about finally finding her mother’s gravesite. The reason her resting place had been so elusive was not only that it had been unmarked. Baird was looking for it using her mother’s unofficial name of Julia Dykins. It should have come naturally to Baird that if the authorities couldn’t find it under Julia Dykins, that she should have automatically requested to have them search for it under Julia Lennon or Julia Stanley instead. As it was, the local authorities had the gravesite recorded under the name of Julia Lennon. This name confusion didn’t seem to be a legitimate reason for not being able to locate it. Nevertheless, couldn’t Baird have demanded her family members, including her aunts, to tell her where it was? In spite of the secrets their aunts withheld, why wouldn’t Julia and Jackie solidly demand to know where their mother was buried?
I was puzzled by the spelling Baird used for her younger sister’s name. In John Lennon, My Brother, she used Jacqui. In Imagine This, it’s Jackie. And in the first book her cousin is Leila Harvey, while in the latter it’s Liela. Why the changes?
In spite of the repetition, which I expected, I found John Lennon, My Brother the more interesting read. In this book Baird fleshed out her life story with memories of John but these stories might seem boring to those who were expecting sensational revelations about him. In this memoir Baird finally does meet Yoko Ono in person at the funeral of Aunt Mimi. Her interactions with Ono up till then had only been by phone or through the mail. Ono was a sympathetic figure at the funeral, but afterward is portrayed as uncaring and dismissive of Baird’s relationship with John. The author had a lasting relationship with Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife, whom she knew from the time before she and John were even married. This book was far more cathartic as she exposes the raw emotions she still feels at losing her mother so violently. This was more a story about her own life than it was about John, which, for John fans, might come across as a boring read.