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Letters to Beatle Mums

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”Your mother should know,” the Beatles sang in their ’67 classic. I had figured that out two years earlier, when, as a teen, I sent fan mail to Louise Harrison, George’s mum, and John Lennon’s surrogate mom, Aunt Mimi (Mary Elizabeth Smith). The correspondence with Mrs. Harrison turned into a five-year friendship. Louise sent a slew of George souvenirs — including the guitar pick, below — but the real treasures were 35 handwritten notes, in which she shared the impact of a social phenomenon.

In 1965, she wrote about the Beatles’ receiving their Member of the Order of the British Empire awards: ”How about the Boys being in the Queen’s list of honours? Mr. McCartney, Aunt Mimi, and Mr. Harrison and I had a celebration. I would have loved to have gone to the ceremony, but it was agreed just the Boys and Brian Epstein, so we said nothing.”

Mrs. Harrison often hinted at feeling left out of George’s life, but never as much as when he married Pattie Boyd in 1966: ”I felt as if I’d lost everything. Quite silly, really, as in the car [after] the ceremony, George took my hand and said, ‘It doesn’t mean I don’t need you anymore, Mum.’ He’s such a lovable son, and cares how people feel.. Of course, now we won’t see him so much.. Thank God my other two sons come every Tuesday.”

I learned that Mrs. Harrison had died of a brain tumor in 1970 from Mimi Smith when I visited her home in Dorset in 1971. The Beatles had recently split, and Mrs. Smith was appalled by John’s solo career: ”Apple sends me [albums], but I don’t play them. That shameful cover [Two Virgins, with him and Yoko naked], and that art show [of his erotic lithographs]!” I mentioned the good intentions of his bed-in for peace. ”I know that boy,” she said heatedly, ”it’s all an act. If there were a revolution, John would be the first in queue to get out. That’s Yoko talking.”

Mrs. Smith pointed to a color TV: ”See that? That was supposed to be a Christmas present, but he had it delivered early. A big present arrives every time he’s been naughty. I usually have a large photo of John hanging [in the music room]. When he’s a good boy, it’ll go back up.”

Mimi Smith passed away in 1991. For me, it wasn’t the breakup of the Beatles, or even John’s death, that drove the last nail in the coffin of the ’60s, but the passing of John’s aunt and George’s mother: two ordinary women who experienced the Beatles phenomenon firsthand, and who took the time to confide their thoughts to an eager teenager halfway around the world.

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