Uncle Peach, they called him. Real name, Leonidas Wheeler. Used to be a carpenter, now a drunkard. His sister Dorie took care of him, her son Wheeler wanted nothing to do with him, and her husband tolerated him. As a teen, Wheeler challenged his mother’s concern and efforts with strong words. “To hell with him! Why don’t you let him get on by himself the best way he can? What’s he done for you?”¹
His mom only answered the first question. “Because blood is thicker than water.”
“Blood is thicker than liquor,” Wheeler smart-mouthed back.
“Yes,” she said. “Thicker than liquor too.”
In Wendell Berry’s short story, “Thicker than Liquor,” Wheeler goes to fetch Uncle Peach on his mother’s behalf, years after the day he accused her of wasting her time on the man. Now a bit wiser, he sets out to help his uncle after gently repeating his mom’s words about the duty and bond of blood relatives, yet he continues to struggle with how he’ll act once he catches up to his ruined uncle.
Wheeler does not have to wonder for long. Peach is holed up in a hotel, vomiting, and continues to vomit all the way home by crowded train and by buggy. In disgust Wheeler tells Peach, “I hope you puke your damned guts out.”
“Oh, Lord, honey,” says Peach, quaking pitifully, “you can’t mean that.”
The response hits Wheeler hard, knocking his eyes open to the “poor, hurt, mortal” his uncle was. So hard, once Wheeler gets the foul smelling man home and in bed, he crawls in with him, to comfort him through the night.
What Uncle Peach deserved, and what he got, from his sister and nephew at least, differed. To a degree, he did get what he deserved in the way of natural consequences, traveling “among the thorns and thistles the ground brought forth” in his life. But what his two family members did was give him ointment for his drunken wounds.
Are You a Weary Dorie?
As his sister Dorie saw it, her brother was “’one of the least of these my brethren’—a qualification for her care that the blood connection only compounded. If one of the least of Christ’s brethren happened to be her brother, then the obligation was as clear as the penalty.”
What penalty Dorie thought about, the author does not say. Whether we do face a penalty for failing to act, while Christians, well, I’ll let you search that out with a theologian, a priest, a pastor, or through a long season of prayer. I do know that grace abounds and whatever we have failed to do in the past, we can still begin to do today. Not to atone for our sin of omission or commission, but because God opened our eyes and we see the man or woman in front of us differently.
We also see God differently and we are compelled to walk in a new way. Not as saviors, rescuers, or self-pitying relatives. Not solvers. Definitely not martyrs. Just everyday people, with eyes wide open. Connected in a holy way.
Are You a Rotting Peach?
If you are an “Oh Lord, honey,” you need blood. God blood: through Christ the sacrificial lamb who died on the Cross.
You need love. God love: because of Christ God adopts you as His own son.
You need a new life. God life: in Christ you are a new creation.
Relationship with God does not end your battles, it changes them. Changes you, if you let Him. I don’t know about you, but in my life that was some of the best news I ever heard.
¹ “Thicker than Liquor” by Wendell Berry, from That Distant Land: The Collected Stories (Shoemaker Hoard, 2004).