[This is a second post from my son from his recent six-week study in Peru, where he lived with a local family and studied at the university in Cusco.]

August 6, 2013

By William Ehrich

In the eyes of my Peruvian host mother arose the depth and glaze of nostalgia.

I had only asked her what food she ate as a child, and she was spun back someplace in the lurching past. She described to me in swirling detail the colors and smells of her childhood home, of the countryside that surrounded it, of the days when families lined the river catching fish and frying potatoes.

I asked her if they caught trout and she sweetly scoffed, detailing instead the rich, pink flesh of Peruvian river fish that fill the waters.

She then described the death of her father when she was very young and the strong soul of a mother who must take up a job to support her many children. She told me that her mother set up a tienda in the back of their house, with eggs and juices and corn and fresh meats. She told me about the traders that came from all parts to buy goods and to share food with her family.

I sensed the calm kindness that follows tragedy and loss. And when my host mother described the kitchen in the old house she pointed to her own living room as a reference, I could see in her eyes that she was walking there as a child, through her old house where the hallways smell of her mother and outside traders talk and laugh.

The edge of her mouth trembled lightly and an eye watered, and a sixty year old woman was a seven year old girl, helping lift bread from the brick oven, watching her mother with shining eyes.

In her eyes I saw the soul’s strain and yearning for the past to inform the present. I saw man’s mad struggle against the passing of time and the tired fear that sets after a spell of fighting.

My host mother looked for something there in the kitchen of her memory, for something that explains death and explains withering health. Her eyes searched groggily, and I knew she didn’t find anything because I know that we can’t.

Her eyes became clear again and she looked up from the table and gave me a quick smile. She told me that each fall she and her family gather along the same river to eat pink fish. I imagine that she and her brothers watch their grandchildren splash in the river and smile softly remembering the traders who gave them candies long ago.

What bravery it takes to stomach the long hours of age, to find in the past a strength to embrace the future. What a strong heart grows with time.

(My son William, 21, is a senior at Binghamton University.)