Bud, Not Buddy is the story of a ten-year-old black boy who is trying to find his family in Flint, Michigan, during the Great Depression.
As the story opens, Bud is at the Home, a place for orphaned children. He and his friend Jerry stand in line as the caseworker enters. The woman stops in front of the two boys to say that each will be placed in foster care in different homes. Bud will stay with a family that has a son older than he is, and Jerry will live with a family that has three daughters.
This is not a new experience for Bud, and he dreads having to move from the Home yet again.
The caseworker reminds the boys that they are in the midst of a depression and that they should be thankful that these families will take them in. The boys gather their belongings. Bud, who narrates the story, remembers that this will be his third foster home. He does not struggle with tears as Jerry does; Bud, in fact, believes he has forgotten how to cry. Bud also has no illusions about his foster care situation. He knows he will have to prove himself to the older boy, who will probably want to fight him.
Bud is sensitive to the needs of others. He is worried about Jerry, who is only six, because his experience in the foster care system has taught him that moving around at six is hard. Bud has learned that life for a foster child is particularly difficult and that it is not uncommon to be hit or punched by foster family members.
Bud finds that humor helps him cope. Throughout the story, Bud will continue to look to his sense of humor to keep things in perspective.
Bud gathers his suitcase, something of which he takes special care: it hold his most precious belongings. Under the blanket inside, with his other “treasures,” there is a blue flyer that has information about Herman E. Calloway, a musician. Bud believes this flyer holds a clue about who his father is. He remembers that this paper upset his mother when she first found it, and it was not long after he found her dead in her bedroom.
Finally prepared, the two boys sit on the edge of a bed to wait, shoulders touching. Neither speaks; they each wait quietly to see what the future holds for them.
Bud’s time in his foster home has begun much as he predicted: the Amoses’ son, Todd, is beating Bud badly. When Mrs. Amos comes into the room, she watches as Todd changes his kicking foot. Instead of stopping him, she says his name softly. Todd goes through a sudden transformation and starts to pretend he is having an asthma attack.
Between breaths, Todd lies to his mother, saying that he had only tried to wake Bud to make sure he went to the bathroom—Mrs. Amos hates bed wetters. The mark of Bud’s palm across the side of Todd’s face is enough to prove to Mrs. Amos that Todd is the victim, despite the blood flowing from Bud’s nose. Bud realizes that Todd is a very good liar.
Bud starts mentally goes over the list he has made up to keep from repeating his mistakes. He calls it Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. Todd seems to know Bud’s Rule 3, which is to make sure that your lie is simple enough to remember. Bud notes that it does not count for much because Mrs. Amos is bound to listen to anything Todd tells her anyway. Bud’s perception of Mrs. Amos is quite accurate; she does not consider what she has seen at all.
For a moment, Bud pauses to recall how the problem began. Bud had been sleeping when he felt a pain in his nose. He woke up to see Todd standing over him with a pencil in his hand, congratulating Bud because the pencil had gone up his nose to the R in Ticonderoga. Without thinking, Bud smacked Todd across the face. Todd, with a wicked gleam in his eyes and diabolical smile on his face, crossed the room to retaliate. Bud quickly concludes that being brave is great in principal, but because Todd hits like a mule, Bud tires quickly of being brave and curls himself into a small ball much like a turtle with his head tucked inside his shell. This was where Mrs. Amos walked in.
Mrs. Amos helps Todd to...
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Bud is alone in the dark shed behind the Amoses’ house. Frightened, he tries to make out what is inside. He is sure he can see the glowing eyes of three “monsters” next to the shed’s door knob. In the limited light from the house, Bud is able to see that the creatures are really fish heads that have been nailed to the wall. He hangs an old rag over them so they cannot scare him.
Bud does not want to lay on the floor—he is sure there are bugs. He recalls a friend who had a cockroach stuck in his ear. Everyone tried to get it out while Bud’s friend screamed. Eventually, the people at the Home had to take the boy to the emergency room. This was when Bud’s friend, Bug, got his nickname.
Bud climbs on the woodpile and entertains himself with shadow puppets he can make in the dim light from the house. Then he curls up with the pillow and blanket and soon falls asleep. When Bud wakes a short time later, the lights in the Amoses’ house are off. It is even harder to see now. When Bud looks up, he sees an enormous vampire bat hanging from the ceiling.
Surveying the situation, Bud concedes that there is a time when a smart person knows there is no point in fighting and a time when fighting is absolutely necessary. Bud has no intention of letting a bat get him, so he looks around and decides a nearby rake will serve as a suitable weapon. Referring to Rule 328 ("once you’ve made up your mind to do something, get to it before you have the chance to talk yourself out of it"), Bud attacks.
Bud swings the rake like “Paul Bunyan swinging his axe.” He expects to hear howls of rage from his defeated foe. Instead he hears a loud sound like a buzz saw. The first sting in his cheek reveals the truth: He has not killed a vampire bat. He has disturbed a very large hornets’ nest—and they are far from happy. While they sting him repeatedly, Bud tries, unsuccessfully, to break down the shed’s door. In a panic, Bud changes direction and crashes through the shed’s window onto the ground outside, slapping himself and rolling away from his attackers.
Stung and sore, Bud becomes furious. He is mad not only at the Amoses but at himself for believing there was a bat in the shed and for getting stuck in such a predicament with no one who cares about him to help him out.
With the taste of anger in his mouth and thoughts of revenge in his head, Bud climbs the back steps to enter the Amos house once again.
Bud re-enters the Amoses’ house to get revenge and to retrieve his suitcase. The back door is locked, so Bud checks and finds an unlocked window into the kitchen. First, he assures himself that his suitcase is there. Next, Bud finds the shotgun. Before he does anything else, he puts his suitcase on the top step outside so that he can make a swift escape if necessary.
Bud proceeds with his plan to punish the Amos family, but his sense of fair play will not allow him to blame Todd for resenting Bud’s presence in his house; Bud might resent someone else if he lived in a nice house and another kid came to stay. At the same time, Bud realizes there is a difference between being unhappy about sharing one’s personal space and torturing the kid who comes to stay.
Bud picks up the shotgun and imagines shooting an elephant or even Todd. He visualizes how it would feel to put the gun up against Todd’s nose. He knows he would have to act quickly to get away. Ironically, even as Bud reflects on these things, he knows the weapon is dangerous and must be hidden so no one gets hurt. He assumes that if he is caught in the house, he might need to worry about the Amoses using the gun on him. Bud decides to put the gun outside on the back porch where it will be hidden by the darkness until the sun comes up.
In the kitchen, Bud looks for a glass and fills it with warm water. One of the boys in the Home told Bud that if a person put someone’s hand in warm water while he was asleep, the sleeper would wet the bed. Bud quietly takes the glass to Todd’s room. The other boy does not wake, but Bud has a problem: Todd’s fingers are so big that Bud cannot get them into the glass, so he pours the water on Todd’s hand. Still nothing happens.
Finally Bud decides to pour the warm water on Todd’s pajama pants. Todd smiles and, finally, wets the bed. Bud laughs quietly then walks out of the house and picks up his suitcase, satisfied that he has exacted the perfect revenge because Mrs. Amos cannot stand bed-wetters. With that, Bud leaves the Amoses behind.
Bud is running away from the Amoses. He calls it “being on the lam.” He is aware that he looks out of place, so he decides the safest thing to do is head for the library where Miss Hill, a librarian, might be able to help him. Bud plans to hide in the library’s basement until the building opens. However, when he arrives, he discovers that the windows are covered with bars. With no other options, Bud climbs beneath the low-lying limbs of one of the “Christmas trees” lining the property to stay out of sight.
Bud takes an inventory of his suitcase. The first item is his blanket: never knowing where one will need to sleep, the blanket is an important possession. Bud finds his rocks still in their tobacco bag and...
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When Bud opens his eyes, the sun is shining and he realizes he has overslept. He runs several blocks to the mission, hoping he can still get in line for breakfast.
When he arrives, many people are there before him. When Bud tries to take his place with the others, the man at the end of the line tells the youngster he is too late. Bud tries several times to get him to change his mind, until the man threateningly takes out a black strap, indicating that if he will hit the boy if he does not leave. Bud knows that getting beaten up would be worse than being hungry, and he starts to leave.
Before Bud goes more than a step or two, someone behind him stops him with a firm hand and calls him Clarence. He is asked...
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Bud enters the library hoping to find Miss Hill; perhaps she can help him. As always, he notices the smell of the library. It is hard to clearly identify the collection of fragrances that he detects because they are made up of an assortment of odors all mixed together. He closes his eyes and takes a breath: he smells the leather covers of old books, the cloth covers of new books (that creak when opened), and even the paper. Bud surmises that it must be all these scents mixed together that make it so easy for people to fall asleep in the library, which is almost as bad to do as laughing out loud.
Bud starts looking through the building for Miss Hill. He leaves his suitcase at the front desk for safekeeping then walks...
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Bud hears a stick snap and is worried that someone is sneaking up on him; he has been sleeping under a tree outside the library. A body crashes into him, but as they tussle, Bud realizes it is his friend Bugs.
Bud asks Bugs why he is not at the Home and Bugs explains that he has left the Home to ride the rails (railroad cars) and has come to see if Bud wants to accompany him. Bugs also asks for the details of Bud’s fight at and flight from the Amos household. Bugs declares Bud is a hero!
As they talk, Bugs explains what it is like to travel by train. Bud believes riding the rails is a fine idea, so they agree to travel together. They spit in their palms and shake hands, sealing the deal and their...
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Bud has arrived at the mission in time to eat after leaving Hooverville. His “family” from the previous day is not there.
When he finishes breakfast, Bud waits under his tree. When the library opens, Bud goes to the librarian he spoke to the day before and asks to borrow a pencil, paper, and the atlas that will help him calculate the distance from one city to another. While they are speaking, the librarian mentions that she remembers when Bud and his mom used to visit the library years before. She gives him the atlas he has requested and tells him that she will have a surprise for him when he returns the atlas.
Bud uses the book, does a little math, and calculates the distance between Flint and Grand...
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As Bud walks to Grand Rapids, he comes to Flint’s town limits. On one side, the sign invites people to come back to Flint soon; on the other side, it welcomes people entering Flint. This amuses Bud. For a short while, he jumps in and out of town by crossing and recrossing the boundary line.
When he grows bored, Bud decides to start walking again. He quickly notices that the country sounds very different from the city. Where Flint was filled with the blasting of car horns and trucks without mufflers, his ears are filled now with a blasting silence broken only by bugs, frogs, and an occasional yowling cat. He imagines that here the creatures in the grass and bushes play hide-and-seek; when caught, they are eaten. The...
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Buddy tries to drive away, but the car chugs and dies. The driver asks Bud to lower the window so they can speak. Because he is a respectful young man, Bud complies. The car’s owner inquires as to why the boy is taking the vehicle. Bud explains that he knows a vampire when he sees one: the man is carrying containers of blood in the back seat.
The man laughs to himself and then explains that he could not possibly be a vampire. He asks Bud if he has ever seen a vampire drive a car. The youngster considers this, and while he is not completely certain, he feels safe enough to unlock the car door. The blood in the back seat is for the hospital in Flint, where someone is having an operation, and the driver is deeply...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Bud and Lefty Lewis say their farewells to the Sleet family. Lefty informs Bud that on the previous evening when the boy had fallen asleep in the car, Lefty sent a telegram to Bud’s father so he would know his son was safe and on his way home.
Bud is relatively sure that this turn of events has confused Herman E. Calloway as much as Bud himself. Lefty has errands to run, however, so they head toward Grand Rapids. Suddenly a siren sounds behind them and they see flashing lights: the police are pulling Lefty over. Bud is sure the law has caught up with him. There is a box on the seat between them, and Lefty quickly instructs Bud to place it under the seat.
Lefty leaves the car to speak to the policeman, who...
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When Bud announces to a room full of people at the club that Herman E. Calloway is his father, everyone becomes very quiet. The younger men in the room think this is very funny, but they are afraid to laugh.
Jimmy is the one who breaks the silence: “Hold on, now, is your name Bud?” Bud answers in the affirmative, and Jimmy makes the connection between this and the telegram that arrived the day before. However, Herman wants no part of this situation, and he scolds Bud a little:
First off, don’t be coming in here accusing folks of being your father, and second off, where is your mother?
Bud is sad that his “father” acts like he does not already know what...
(The entire section is 647 words.)
Bud and the rest of the band go into a restaurant. Bud sees that it is really the living room of a house that his been transformed into an dining area with the addition of folding chairs and card tables. There is a line of people waiting to be seated, but Calloway’s entourage excuses itself, passes the line, and finds the table where Calloway is already seated. The smells that assault Bud remind him of all of his favorite foods cooked in one pot. It is no surprise to him that there is a line of folks waiting to be fed. He believes, "This must be exactly how heaven smells!"
Mr. Jimmy and a woman are sitting with Herman E. Calloway. Although Steady Eddie notes that there is another table “RESERVED NBC” (for Nobody...
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Bud rides with Miss Thomas to a big house that she calls "Grand Calloway Station." Although he is still embarrassed about crying at the restaurant, Bud knows that he is going to have to talk again sooner or later, so he asks about the house's name. Kindly, Miss Thomas explains:
there were so many different people in and out of here at so many different hours of the day and night that it reminded [Herman Calloway] of that train station in New York City, Grand Central Station. The name kind of stuck.
Inside, Miss Thomas takes Bud upstairs to the room where he will be sleeping. The room has a bed and a window on one side; two little doors, which are obviously closets, are on the...
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When Bud awakens the next morning, he finds himself beneath the covers. His clothes are stacked in a neat pile nearby, the way his Momma used to fold them. He realizes that Miss Thomas must have come by during the night, undressed him, and put him in bed. Bud dresses quickly. Drawn by the sound of laughter and talking emanating from the kitchen, he tiptoes quietly down the stairs. When he gets to the kitchen door, he overhears Miss Thomas telling Herman E. Calloway:
You have no idea how bad those orphanages can be...you'll take care of any stray dog wandering through this neighborhood, but when it comes to a child all of a sudden you have no sympathy.
Mr. Calloway replies...
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While the band prepares to rehearse, Bud works with the mop, pretending that it is the underwater boat in the book he erroneously remembers as Twenty Thousand Leaks Under the Sea. The boy knows that Herman E. Calloway is trying to "work [him] like a dog," but Bud is used to hard labor. The old man's efforts are falling far short in wearing him down.
Bud's attention is suddenly diverted by someone shouting out, "One, two, one two three!" The Thug begins brushing his drum sticks on the cymbals, making a sound "like a soft rain...commencing to fall." Dirty Deed joins in, making the piano match the "rain pats" the Thug is creating. The combined sound is like
what Niagara Falls must...
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Bud has been living with the band for just about a week, but already he is going on his third road trip with them. This time, they are headed for a small town called Mecosta, an hour and a half north of Grand Rapids. Herman Calloway and Mr. Jimmy are riding in one car with the instruments, while Bud is in the other car with the rest of the musicians. For this gig, Miss Thomas has stayed behind at Grand Calloway Station.
On the ride up, the band members engage in one of their favorite pastimes—"teasing each other and talking about Herman E. Calloway behind his back." The focus of their good-natured gibes on this trip is Dirty Deed, who is the only white member of the band. Bud learns that Mr. Calloway "always keep[s]...
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After learning Bud's mother's name, Herman E. Calloway locks himself in his room. Mr. Jimmy and Miss Thomas continue to question Bud in the kitchen, asking him how long ago his mother passed away, and what she looked like. Bud tells them that she died peacefully at home after a short illness four years ago, when he was six. He tries to describe her physical characteristics, but falls short in his attempt. Instead, he runs upstairs to get the photograph of her that he keeps in his sax case.
When he gets to his room, Bud is surprised to find Mr. Calloway sitting there at the dressing table, holding his face in his hands, sobbing. The boy goes quietly over to the place near the bed where he keeps all of his important...
(The entire section is 991 words.)