Epizoodiks & Purple Cows

“Epizoodiks” is southern slang for short, persistent coughs. It’s also a tribute to my Muddy, Kathleen Critzer, who uses the term often whenever anyone gets sick. “Do you have the epizoodiks?” she’ll ask. She’s my grandmother, but everyone calls her “Muddy”. It’s funny, too, her name is Kathleen, but she hates it and insists that everyone call her Katherine. At 93 years old, whatever she wants us to call her is fine with us.

I’m not sure where “Muddy” came from. Mother? Who knows, but I remember my friends teasing me growing up. “Doesn’t she wash? Why is she so dirty? So muddy?” they’d ask gleefully. I love her fiercely and would defend her defiantly. “That’s her name idiot!” as if anyone could ask such a stupid question.

Muddy grew up in The Grottoes, just west of Waynesboro, Virginia, near Staunton. Her father owned a farm, and when she married my grandfather, he worked every acre of that farm. Both my mother and aunt were born in the front bedroom. I think my Mama had a pet duck. Muddy was happy to move into town, though, when Mama was about 5, her sister 4. “Better heat in the winter” she’d say. My sis has a picture of Mama and Shirley from this time, they’re so young, holding hands out in front of the old farmhouse. I wish I had a copy.

I’ve been out to the old farm, still standing. The big white house, the fields. It’s beautiful. We’d never go in the house, but Grandaddy always made sure we realized that he worked every acre of land we could see, as far as our eyes can see, he’d proclaim, sweeping his arm to and fro.

The old farm is near a purple cow. Yep, you heard me a purple cow. We’d never make a visit out to the old homestead without stopping to say hi to the purple cow.

I called the blog “epizoodiks” because that’s what it is. Little coughs. Little proclamations, memories, comments. Little epizoodiks. I looked up the term, and it actually means an epidemic occuring in animals. But that’s not how Muddy used it, and that’s not how I want it to be thought of. Jeez, it’s not a sickness, more of an annoying itch, something to be scratched, or loosened, coughed up and gotten rid of and put somewhere.

She always spells out stuff too, as if we can’t spell. Of course when we were younger we couldn’t. She’d say, “You better drink that before it gets as warm as P-I-double S” and in our minds we’d spell it out, our minds would register the fact that Muddy just cussed! and we’d say, “Awwwwwwww! That’s a BAD WORD” before laughing hysterically. She’d laugh too.

And everything we drank was “a Pepsi”. It might be Dr. Pepper, Coke, Sprite, or Mr. Pibb (remember that?) but to her it was Pepsi. “You want a Pepsi?” she’d ask.

And I always remember her wiping down the oilcloth tablecloth in the kitchen. When our small family of four visited, that’s where we hung out most of the time. Her kitchen had an old swinging door which creaked, and we’d walk through and sit at the old red formica table in the breakfast nook, a tight squeeze. She’d wipe off the oilcloth covering the formica (that swish swish noise of wet dishrag on oilcloth is a sound I’ll never forget) before serving up cherry vanilla ice cream, homemade coconut cake and Pepsi. That cake must’ve had 8 layers. It was gigantic and light as air. She’d serve it up, and then sit on one of those high kitchen stool slash chairs that all the kitchens in the 1950’s had. I’ve got one today. It was like she wanted to be ready at a moment’s notice to get us another slice, another scoop, another Pepsi.

She always cut our peanut butter toast into 9 small squares when we had breakfast. It was our special “Muddy” way of having peanut butter toast. When Mama tried to do that at home, it just wasn’t the same. The peanut butter toast always tasted better in Muddy’s kitchen.

She had one of those yellow, plastic fiesta-ware pitchers full of ice water in her fridge. It tasted so good.

She has long grey hair to her waist, but keeps it pinned up underneath a black wig. Jackie-O style. I love that long grey hair though, and always wondered why she kept it hidden. It just kept growing under that bouffant wig.

And Muddy always says, “Heck” when you tell her an amazing fact or unbelievable story. She’ll put one arm up, her chin in her hand, and as she’s listening to you she’ll shake her head back and forth and breath out the word, “Heeeeeeeeeeck” every so often. As if to say, “Well, I never” or “Oh my God, what you’re telling me is just too good to be true”. It’s her little way.

As I grow older, I appreciate more these little epizoodiks. I miss her coconut cake, her kitchen table. I wished we lived closer. I’m afraid I won’t find out her story, her history, before she’s gone. I’m starting to look more like her which I find scary and comforting at the same time. Big Love Muddy.

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