"Bud and Neeter"
By David Decker
Bud and Anita Gravely (pronounced with a short “a” - “Grav-Lee”) were the odd couple to end all odd couples. They were not odd from the standpoint of being different from one another. To the contrary, Bud and Anita (we always called her by the true southern pronunciation of her proper name - “Neeter”) fit together like hog jowls and turnip greens. They were simply different from anybody and everybody else this writer has ever known. This is their story (at least part of it) – and may the Lord be merciful to their departed souls.

Bud was a giant of a man. He stood over six feet tall, and tipped the scales at 275 if he weighed an ounce. His massive hands resembled slabs of thick, country ham. They would easily wrap around the average man’s hand almost double whenever Bud stuck one of them out for a hearty, masculine handshake.

By the time our family lived next door to him in northwest Atlanta he was in his forties and bald. Few were the times anyone saw him without an olive green cap on his head, and his “uniform” of work clothes on. And, few also were the times when Bud gave evidence of having recently bathed, showered, or otherwise groomed himself. Bud grew up on a sharecropper’s farm in the north Georgia mountains. There was little or no evidence of training on personal hygiene in his past.

Country folks of Bud’s era did not have inside plumbing. Therefore, any gesture toward cleanliness came either in the form of Saturday night baths in the river, or “spit baths” taken while standing beside an open fire and a scalding kettle of water. These spit baths were also known, particularly in the military, by the term, “P.T.A.” baths (i.e., peter, tits and armpits). Bud was not a card-carrying member of the P.T.A.

During his adult years someone in Bud’s family tried to get him to fly across country to see extended family in Texas. When he refused to even get aboard an aircraft his relative remarked, “Why, Bud, you can get killed quicker in a bathtub than a jet plane.” Bud’s answer: “I ain’t a-getting’ in one of them neither.”

Too, there were evidently no dentists in the hills of north Georgia during Bud’s formative years. “Toothbrushes,” when they were used in the country, were nothing more than a twig cut from a certain variety of tree. The end of the twig was frayed and fanned out in a circular “brush” design. With no toothpaste available, this twig was rubbed vigorously and dryly over each tooth. It is doubtful that Bud Gravely ever used one of these natural devices. He had only one tooth in his head. When he smiled or laughed, that lone, deeply yellowed, front tooth shined like a hood ornament on a new Rolls Royce.

Bud spent his young life plowing fields, felling giant hardwoods and splitting them with an old double bladed axe that belonged to his daddy, and/or working from sun-up to sundown in a north Georgia saw mill. He never once walked on a golf course, or played a round of tennis down at the country club. Bud’s recreation was work. It was all he had ever known. In the old Daniel Boone television series that was so popular when this writer was a boy, the show’s title song included a verse that said, “Daniel Boone was a man – a BIG man!” The same could have been sung about Bud Gravely. He was a throwback to a time when a man looked, behaved and smelled like a man. There was no such thing as G.Q., political correctness, or even cologne in Bud’s world. On his tombstone, just below his name, the inscription read, “Here Lies A Good Hard Working Man - Amen."

In the 1950’s, Bud moved to Atlanta from the mountains in search of a job. Farming and saw-milling didn’t pay much back in the hills. Bud had heard that Atlanta was growing, and there were lots of construction jobs open that paid good wages. While he did not particularly relish the thought of living in the city, if there was money to be had in Atlanta for a hard day’s work, Bud was determined to find it.

Bud knocked around at different things for a few months, but was not really satisfied with any of the jobs he hired into. Most of the “positions” he found at first were factory jobs, requiring him to pull long hours working in dark, dirty, dismal conditions. Since Bud had always worked outdoors back in the hills, these foundry-like surroundings were like a prison to him. He hated every minute of it.

One night he went into a little tavern just off Northside Drive near downtown to have a beer and rest his tired body. The name of the place was the, “Ease On Inn.” The music in that little beer joint was loud, and the clientele even louder. The bartender and one of the bar’s patrons soon struck up a conversation with him. Little did Bud realize that this conversation, as well as certain things associated with it, would soon change his life forever.

When a country boy comes to the city, the first thing that gives his heritage and pedigree away is his thick, rural accent. Bud was a mountain man, and a country boy through and through. When he spoke in his hillbilly drawl it resembled a conglomeration of Gomer Pyle, Briscoe Darling, and Ernest T. Bass all rolled into one. Too, Bud’s deep, barrel-chested voice was as big as he was. Even with the tavern jukebox going at full volume, practically everybody in that little place could hear him when he talked or laughed. He soon became the evening’s entertainment for the crowd of fish-eyed, half-drunk city folks that frequented the Ease On Inn.

The patron that took a liking to Bud and his humorous, country-boy ways happened to be the chief dispatcher for the old McDougal-Warren Concrete Company in Atlanta. McDougal-Warren had a large fleet of concrete trucks, and was a major player in the construction-related trades in Atlanta during the burgeoning growth of the 1960’s and beyond. As a result, their company was always on the lookout for good drivers. The dispatcher sensed that Bud was just the kind of hard-working, honest fellow that his company could use. “Come on down to the plant on Monday morning,” the dispatcher said, “I can put you right to work.” The pay was good, the work was outside, and Bud had plenty of experience driving big trucks during his saw mill days. He walked out of the bar that night thanking the Good Lord for answering his vocational prayers.

Bud loved two things in life – country music and beer. He could never get enough of Ernest Tubb, George Jones, or Hank Williams. Whenever their records played on the radio, Bud sang along with every word. “Does them concrete buggies I’m gonna’ be a-driving have a ‘radidio’ (mountain vernacular for ‘radio’) in ‘em?”, he asked the dispatcher on Monday morning. “Some do, some don’t,” said the dispatcher. “I’ll try to find you one that does.” Bud’s reaction to the dispatcher became his staple reply whenever something pleased him, “Boy-Howdy!”

Bud’s second love bore his name - Bud-weiser. He was perhaps the real-life, southern counterpart of the beloved TV character from Cheers, Norm Peterson. If beer was being served, Bud Gravely was there. There was more Bud in Bud’s refrigerator than food. His idea of a big Saturday night was to sit at the kitchen table by the radio listening to the Grand Ole Opry, while polishing off a six-pack of the “king of beers.” He often said that if they didn’t serve beer in heaven, he would have to think seriously about whether or not he wanted to go.

These two great loves in Bud’s life kept him going back to the Ease On Inn. He soon became a beloved regular in that little juke joint – again, much like Norm Peterson was at Cheers.

There was also another reason Bud kept going back. Her name was Neeter.

Anita (we never knew her maiden name) was not a beauty. Bless her heart (and her other vital organs). She was a little bitty skinny woman that stood just shy of five feet tall. Her complexion was rough as a catcher’s mitt from years of inhaling cartons of Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes. Her teeth were, well, not hers. And, they were also not their original color. Smoking ruins the enamel on the teeth (even false ones) just as it does the pores of the skin. Like Bud, Neeter had also never been acquainted with oral hygiene. When she smiled, it was a darkish brown and yellow train wreck. Bless her heart.

Too, Neeter was not one to bathe or wash her straight, jet black hair. It always seemed to hang just short of her shoulders in a matted, semi-tangled coiffe. Resembling the strings from an old mop that had been used to swab a cabin floor full of coal dust, Neeter’s hair needed serious help. This writer’s sister offered on many occasions to wash it and style it for her. Neeter’s reply was verbatim Larry-The-Cable-Guy material (and about thirty years ahead of its time): “We’ll git-‘er-done one day.” That day never came.

Neeter’s clothes were rarely clean, and reeked of the stench from cigarette smoke. This writer recalls only a handful of mix and match outfits in her entire wardrobe. Guesstimating Neeter’s sizes, my mother would occasionally sew or buy her a new outfit and give it to her for an early birthday or Christmas present. Neeter was always appreciative of Mama’s acts of kindness toward her in this way. She would tear up, hug my mother’s neck, and proceed to wear the outfit until it also reeked of cigarettes and alcohol.

Neeter was not a beer drinker like Bud. She said the very smell of it made her sick (go figure). Her potions of choice were either Ripple or MD 20-20 (i.e., cheap wine), with an occasional shot of Heaven Hill eighty proof whiskey as a chaser. Alcohol and nicotine is a powerful tandem. Neeter was held hostage by both of these demonic forces for as long as this writer knew her.

Neeter was also from the country, but not from north Georgia. Her lineage was in Carroll County, near the Alabama line. Neeter never talked about her childhood nor her family. As far as anyone knew, Bud was all the “family” she ever had.

The pronounced lisp that Neeter spoke with was almost a hair-lip type impediment. Sometimes she was difficult to understand, and often had to repeat sentences, especially for strangers. This writer and his sister grew to be able to understand almost everything Neeter said, and thus "translated" for her when others misunderstood. Despite the challenges she faced, Neeter was most always a happy person who laughed a lot and enjoyed it when company came to her house.

No one ever knew if Bud and Neeter were officially husband and wife. When this writer’s family moved next door to them in the early 1960’s they were already a couple. They, of course, had met at the Ease On Inn. Neeter was employed there serving beer and working the cash register. When Bud first started going there, it was love at first sight between them. Every night, Bud could be found down at the end of the bar with beer in hand. Neeter would park herself in front of him, leaning over the bar, smiling, smoking her Pall Mall or Lucky Strike, and refilling Bud’s Bud every few minutes. Theirs was truly a “marriage” made in Milwaukee.

Whenever they finally became a co-habiting couple, Neeter quit the beer joint. Bud evidently made enough at McDougal-Warren to support both their habits. She never worked outside the home after that, and rarely left it at all, during the years we were their neighbors.

Bud and Neeter’s house was a small, two bedroom, one bath, shotgun frame on about an acre of ground. Bud grew tomatoes and a few other vegetables in a garden each year on the back of their property. He always shared the excess from this garden with our family.

Neeter was not a Good Housekeeping kind of girl. Their house smelled of beer, wine, liquor, and cigarettes. It was always dimly lit on the inside, with the same bluish, black-light haze found in clubs, bars, and beer joints. Daddy observed once that when Bud and Neeter quit the Ease On Inn, it looked as if they brought its décor home with them. Visiting their house was the closest thing to going into a beer joint that this writer knew as a lad. No matter – Bud and Neeter’s place was always filled with a warm welcome for any visitor and was a haven for true southern hospitality, regardless of how it may have looked or smelled. This writer and his sister loved going over to Bud and Neeter’s, especially if it meant being able to escape their chores for a few hours. They always kept ice cold Cokes and snacks on hand just for us.

As seemingly unhealthy and unkempt as their surroundings and personal habits were, Bud and Neeter rarely got sick. Evidently, if enough alcohol is maintained in one’s bloodstream on a regular basis, germs, bacteria, and other infectious maladies have no place to take hold and blossom. When those occasions did come for one of them to be sick, the employment of mountain, home remedies, plus a little nip from the jug, was thought to be sufficient “doctoring.”

Bud did not trust easily. Mountain people are that way. Once they get to know you, there is no more loyal friend to be found than a true mountaineer. Country folks tend to look after their own, and do so remarkably well. However, until they decide to accept you, country folks (and particularly mountain folks) can be more than a little stand-offish.

Politicians, doctors, and TV preachers – these were the top three categories of folks that Bud Gravely had absolutely no use for. His stated belief was that all three of these were nothing more than liars, thieves, and untrustworthy scalawags. As a result, he refused to vote, allow anyone to examine him when he was sick, or even go to church on Sunday.

Bud was well into his fifties when his chest and stomach began hurting. He labored with the pain, putting off going to the doctor for as long as absolutely possible. “They’ll just poke me, stick me, cut me, and then charge me an arm and a leg for it,” he reasoned. Still, the pain worsened. Bud tried multiple home and mountain remedies with no relief. Stubbornly, he maintained that his plight would pass in time, and that he couldn’t afford to be off from work to go see a doctor. Still, the pain worsened. In desperation, Bud finally asked one of the other neighbors on our street who DID support one of those TV healing preachers to call in and ask for Bud to be healed. Still, the pain intensified.

Finally, Bud agreed to see a doctor – as long as my father or mother went along. The appointment was made, and on a Thursday afternoon, the Deckers and the Gravelys loaded up in Bud and Neeter's old station wagon and took off for Dr. John Manget’s office in downtown Atlanta.

Dr. John Manget (pronounced, “Mar-Jay”), was a G.P. with a medical practice located in a beautiful old, renovated civil war home near Ralph McGill Boulevard. Though this writer’s father was also averse to doctors, Dr, Manget had been able to help both him and my mother with various illnesses throughout their marriage. Daddy told Bud, “this doctor can probably help you – give him a chance.”

Bud and Neeter both seemed very nervous as our car full of folks piled into Dr. Manget’s waiting room. Neither Bud nor Neeter could read and write, so Mama and Daddy helped them fill out the medical forms and get everything in order before the nurse came for Bud. When she did, he asked Daddy to go back to the examining room with him. After much pleading, this writer got to go along too. Witnessing an examination in a doctor's office on someone other than yourself, especially without the fear of getting a shot, was a really cool thing for a young boy.

Before Dr. Manget came into the examining room, the nurse came in and asked Bud a long list of questions regarding his condition. She took his blood pressure, temperature, pulse, weighed him, and then told him to take off his clothes. Bud turned white as a sheet. His eyes bulged to the size of silver dollars. “I ain’t about to strip for nobody, especially no man!”, Bud proudly and defiantly declared. The nurse was calm but firm. “Mr. Gravely, you MUST take your clothes off, and put on this gown on for us to be able to examine you, is that clear?”, she said, in her own authoritative tone.

“G-O-W-N!!??", Bud sarcastically bellowed. "Ma’am, if yuns thanks for one sekkunt that I am gonna’ wear that there G-O-W-N, yuns is as crazy as ye look!”, Bud warned, crossing his arms and lowering even further the register of his already deep baritone voice.

The nurse shot back, “Mr. Gravely, we DON'T play games in this office, and we DON’T take orders from patients…If you want US to help you, you WILL take off your clothes and you WILL put on this gown, and you WILL do so immediately!!!” With that, the nurse turned and gruffly left the examination room, slamming the door behind her with enough force to rattle the various clear glass cotton ball and tongue depressor canisters on the shelves.

Bud looked at Daddy, then at me. He truly was at a loss for knowing what to do next. Mountain men did NOT take orders from women, and they certainly did not take off their clothes in front of other men. Daddy assured Bud that this was standard procedure, and that we would step out of the room long enough for him to change into the gown. As we left the room and stood in the hall, we could hear Bud talking to himself. “Weren't none of my idea to come up here in the first place…Stupid doctor can’t help me none no way…Good thang Daddy ain’t here to see this…How in the world do they 'spect me to git into this here ‘funny boy’ gown anyhow?”

When Bud finally opened the door for us to come back in, it was hard not to laugh. Here was this giant, Hercules of a man in that scant, thin hospital gown. It was certainly a sight to behold. “Ernest, can you help me snap this thing?”, Bud asked my father. In remembering what Bud’s backside looked like as Daddy helped him fasten the snaps on the back of that gown, this writer can’t help but laugh, and think of the old one-liner, “Now I know what they mean by I-C-U.” The experience of seeing a man like Bud Gravely in a gown like that was undoubtedly one of the reasons this writer chose music and the arts over medicine as a career.

Once the gown was in place and Bud’s adrenaline was settling down, the doctor came in. Dr. John Manget could have easily been a black-headed Dr. Kildare. He was, as the phrase goes, tall, dark, and handsome. Standing eye to eye with Bud, he introduced himself and sat down on his rolling stool to begin the session. After asking the same questions as the nurse, listening to Bud’s heart, and mashing on several places on and around Bud’s stomach, Dr. Manget said, “Mr. Gravely, I think your problem is with your gall bladder…We should do a couple of tests.” Bud, never having been to a doctor in his life, didn’t exactly connect with the kind of tests Dr. Manget was referring to. He thought that these tests were going to be similar to something taken in school, and Bud hadn’t seen the inside of a classroom since the 4th grade.

Dr. Manget explained, “No, Mr. Gravely, these tests aren’t something you have to study for and write a bunch of answers to…These tests are medical procedures we perform on you using tubes.” Again, Bud’s face turned ghostly white. “What kinda’ tubes, and ezzatly (mountain pronunciation of “exactly”) how will you use ‘em on me?”, Bud asked, in a visibly and audibly shaken tone. “Well,” explained Dr. Manget, “the two tests I think we should do are called a Colonoscopy and an Endoscopy.” Bud stopped him in mid-sentence, “Say what?”

Dr. Manget repeated the names of the two tests, and gently continued his explanation of what would take place. He explained to Bud how that both tests would be done back to back, and that he wouldn’t have to go to the hospital twice. Dr. Manget, as diplomatically as possible – and yet as accurately as possible, described how a tube would be placed in Bud’s rear end for one test and then in his mouth for the other.

This writer thought for a moment that Bud Gravely, this mammoth hunk of a man’s man, was going to cry. Here he was, sitting in a strange doctor’s examination room, with three other males present, clothed in nothing but a grossly undersized and paper-thin hospital gown, being told that tubes were going to be inserted in two of THE most important openings in his body, and that nothing could be done to ease his pain and suffering without these humiliating procedures being performed on him. Any man would have been at a loss for what to say in response.

After thinking about Dr. Manget’s explanation for a long minute or two, Bud slowly raised his head. “All right, doc,” he said, with a deep sense of resignation in his voice, “if that’s the way its gotta’ be…I jest got one favor to ask of yuns.” In a respectful and sympathetic tone, Dr. Manget asked him what the favor might be. Bud looked Dr. Manget square in the eye and earnestly pleaded, “All I ask, doc, is that yuns put that tube down my mouth before yuns put it up my a**!”

Both Dr. Manget and my father labored to choke back their strong, mutual desire to laugh out loud. “Mr. Gravely,” assured Dr. Manget, “you can count on it!” With that, Dr. Manget left the room. Daddy and I went back to the waiting room so Bud could get dressed. Bud took some extra time before coming back to the waiting room - likely to contemplate in private what was about to happen to him. When he finally did come out, none ansked him any questions. It was apparent that enough had been said for this day. On the way home, the only thing that was said came when Bud leaned over to my father and softly asked: "Ernest, does it hurt when they stick that there thang up in thar?" Daddy assured Bud that they would give him something to relax him, and that it would be so painless that Bud might even drift off into a nap while they were doing it. Bud trusted Daddy. His words of reassurance seemed to satisfy Bud and put him at ease. Though this writer wanted desperately to tell the women what Bud had looked like in that hospital gown, he did not dare open his mouth about. No need to further embarrass our good friend from the hills. Not another word was said the rest of the way home about what had transpired in Dr. Manget's office that day.

Bud came through the tests with flying colors. His pain was diagnosed as coming from both a stomach ulcer and a diseased gall bladder. He later had successful surgery to remove the infected gall bladder, and stayed faithfully on Dr. Manget’s prescribed medication until the ulcer completely healed. After Bud fully recovered, he was somewhat of a changed man where doctors were concerned. He passed Dr. Manget’s name and business card along to many of his friends. “He’s the best dang butt doctor in the country,” Bud would say, “but his hands are cold as a dead man’s.” This was , likely, as much of an endorsement as he would ever give the medical world.

Bud eventually retired from McDougal-Warren. He and Neeter moved away from Atlanta when the population crush of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s came. This writer regretfully heard in later years that Bud died in a nursing home, and Neeter also, while in hospice from complications associated with cirrhosis of the liver.

The memory of these two unique neighbors will never fade from this writer's mind. They bonded with our family, and in some ways became our family (and we theirs). Their home was never a castle, but it was a place where friends and neighbors were always welcome. Their “marriage” may not have been the subject of any movie or documentary, but their devotion to one another was genuine and lasting. Above it all, they were hard-working country people who found one another in the shadow of a city that was anything but country.

Bud and Neeter, thank you for giving a young neighborhood boy and his sister the multiple memories of your house, your yard, your life, and your humor-filled caricatures. This writer enjoyed growing up next door to you, and is grateful for such a joyous recollection of his days spent observing your life together.

May God be merciful to you both on His great Day of Judgment.

©  David Decker