by Kathryn Rosko (Guest Muse)
The name on my grandmother’s birth certificate was Jane Anne, but when she was undergoing some serious personal transformations in the 1970s, she decided that her name had too many ‘e’s so she changed it, legally, to Janann. She was born into a well-to-do—no, I should probably just cop to it—a wealthy family, and from the beginning I believe she probably felt like she had been switched at birth, or, barring that, born into the wrong family.
She started her life doing everything exactly as expected. She had dinner at fancy clubs, played tennis and golf, went off to college and married her college sweetheart, the star football player. She had, in all, four children, though had much trouble conceiving after her first child, her son, my father, and many miscarriages along the way. Her other three children arrived in pretty close succession after a period of seven years.
Then, after her younger children started getting older, and after her first child was already married and having children of his own, she decided that she didn’t want that life anymore. She didn’t want the garden club. She didn’t want the country club. She didn’t fit in, and she wanted out. So, she divorced her husband, a scandalous proposition in 1970s North Carolina, and decided to date younger men, learn about astrology, numerology, and tarot cards, and become—in her words—a spiritual healer. I believe at one point she even had business cards made up that said “Janann Clanton, Spiritual Healer.”
I think that perhaps everyone in her life not only thought she was absolutely unhinged by making these changes, but they were also incredibly pissed off at her for just, in effect, deserting the life she had created to lead a new one. But, to me, her first granddaughter, I thought she was just magical and free-spirited, wonderful and fun.
Her grandchildren called her Pogie. Her nickname in college was Smoky, a joke because she never smoked. Since college she had been known only as Smoky, and thought it would be a fun name for her grandchildren. She was also absolutely pathological about aging, and I believe that she feared any name that smacked of “grandmother,” thus Smoky. The problem was that my brother, her first grandchild, could not pronounce it. Instead it came out as “Pokey” and my grandmother could not abide that so it became Pogie. Over the years, to say she grew into this name would be an understatement. She truly became Pogie; it was her identity.
I adored Pogie. And I will even venture to say that among all of her grandchildren, I may have been the most special to her. We were kindred spirits, my grandmother and I. I loved her crazy outfits, her fake fingernails and deep mahogany tan (she tanned as an activity). I loved her home in Florida, which had a tree festooned with wind chimes, sliding glass doors that were always open, and an esoteric interior design scheme that relied on both priceless antiques and thrift store finds (this was the 1980s, long before “high and low” was a design approach). But most of all, I loved that she was interested in me; in teaching me about astrology and tarot cards, and crystals; in hearing about my dreams and then analyzing them for me; in what my friends were like and how I liked school. She genuinely liked having me around, and I think it was in part because not only did I not judge her for her lifestyle choices, I celebrated them. I thought they were great!
On one break during high school, I asked my parents if I could drive down to Pogie’s house and stay with her for a few days. Now looking back, I think how odd it is that a high school student would choose to spend her vacation with her grandmother over friends or a boyfriend, but that was where I wanted to be and I had a terrific time. When I was with Pogie, I felt loved and accepted for who I was. Pogie didn’t put any pressure on me to be a certain way or do certain things, instead she just liked being with me and listening to me. And I liked being with her and listening to her. I loved that she was different and nearly scandalous to her family and friends—though I knew better, it seemed that she didn’t care what others thought and that burnished her reputation to me.
Now that Pogie has passed on—she died a few years ago at the age of 96—I think about her all the time and have tried to step outside of my emotions to explore what really inspired me about her. And I think I’ve come up with it, because it has dawned on me that I admire other people with the same quality. That quality is that Pogie was brazenly, unabashedly herself. I know that she was hurt by the criticism of her friends, and especially her family, but she made the choice to honor who she was and to be that person despite all the costs. She never remarried after her divorce, but always held out hope that she would; she had troubled relationships with her children until her death, but was always generous and loving when she spoke of them; and she spent a lot of time alone because her choices made her a pariah, but I think she made the best of it reading all the time and doing things she enjoyed. All I know is that whenever I would see her, she would always have an eccentric outfit on (one time, she wore a hat that looked like a swimming cap covered with tiny fake flowers) and a huge smile and an infectious laugh, and she would always look at me with immense love and smother me with a great big hug. The second half of her life wasn’t easy, but she lived it on her own terms, and I think she was happier than she was during the first half of her life when she was living on everyone else’s terms. The fact that she adopted a nickname beginning in college and legally changed her name in her forties shows that she spent most of her life trying to name herself—to literally name who she was. But, by the time she was in her sixties, a grandmother and living life on her own terms, she was Pogie, and that is the name she referred to herself as until the day she died.