This is a true story of the author's childhood and rather bizarre relationship with his father while being raised on a farm in western Nebraska. The book not only relates the unusual story but also drives home the point that hardships do contain hidden benefits or silver linings and reveals how he discovered and benefited from his own adversities. The following is a brief Synopsis of the Work:
Eldon H. Carlson is screaming obscenities into the night, “You worthless little bastard Max, you’re going to a God-Damned boy’s Reformatory,” but his oldest son Max can’t hear him. Not this time. This time Eldon’s brother-in-law LeRoy is taking the heat and wondering why he volunteered to keep Eldon from escaping the hospital during detox, this time around. Meanwhile, Eldon’s son Max, small for his age and totally rejected, like the bucket calves on their Nebraska farm, is home asleep, content in the knowledge that he is temporarily free from his father’s non-stop drunken tirades and endless insults.
Like a bucket calf that is rejected at birth and must be fed through a nipple attached to a bucket in order to survive, Max Carlson learns to thrive and later flourish on the adversity that his alcoholic father feeds him day after day throughout his childhood. At age seven and weighing around 45 pounds, Max learns to milk a cow by hand, on his own, after his father tells him, “You’re not going to live here if you don’t work.” Max is kicked in the head by the cow but completes his chore. The years that follow are filled to the brim with endless chores, deep embarrassment and Eldon’s constant threats to Max promising to “give yer ass a beating.”
Max and his older sister are no longer living at home in January of 1969, Max in college and Kathie married with a newborn son, while their mother is living in town and working for a dentist while the youngest son attends school there, when all hell breaks loose. January 16, 1969 brings three family deaths on the same day, two natural and the other one a gory suicide. Eldon H. Carlson feeds his bucket-calf son a final portion of adversity by killing himself on that day with the gun and shells that Max bought at the Gibson’s Discount Center where he was working during his first year of college. But Max is ready this time. He turns his diet of adversity into a determination to succeed, and remembering how the disadvantaged calves on the farm had often persevered and even outperformed the normal calves, he completes college, enters law school and finds himself ready to utilize the benefits of hardship.