Flash in the Pan

A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights

Mama Rescued Me From Lake George

by Mimi Peel Roughton

I was at an age, a psychiatrist has since told me, when young women often experience difficulties transitioning from child to adult. An episode during my sophomore year in college hadn't helped; at a party I'd eaten what I thought were hashish brownies, but perhaps they contained something stronger. The result was a terrifying hallucinogenic trip. I hadn't told my mother about that, but she sensed something was wrong, and was already worried about my fragile emotional state when I insisted on a summer job waitressing at a conference center on Lake George in upstate New York. My parents acquiesced, and put me on a train headed north.

Four weeks into the season, all the other young employees were having the blast I'd imagined I'd have up north. Growing up in North Carolina, I'd believed the Northeast was gifted with literary and cultural qualities I then thought the South lacked. At nineteen I'd have been willing to walk across hot coals to escape my prosaic North Cackalacky upbringing.

But I was homesick by nature, and I missed my boyfriend and family. Instead of subsiding, the homesickness got worse as the summer progressed. Sunlit trees, rustic buildings, the frigid lake--my world for the past month--started shimmering. Brassy symphonies vibrated inside my brain as I stared for hours at trashcans outside my dorm window.

Keeping up appearances, I continued my duties waiting tables in the dining room, and kept showing up at practices for The Pajama Game, in which I had a bit part.

But my behavior must have seemed erratic, because finally the center's director called my mother.

"Mimi's had a nervous breakdown," he told her. (In the late '70s, that's how people referred to that sort of thing, and at 52, it's still how I think of the episode.)

Without a second thought, Mama took money from the little fund into which she'd always squirreled away small windfalls for antiques. She flew up from North Carolina the same day and whisked me away from the camp in a rental car.

As we drove out the gate, I was flooded with relief and gratitude, but was incapable of expressing it. I remember one fleeting thought--if she'd had the opportunity at my age to spend a summer on Lake George, Mama would've enjoyed it to the max, landed the female lead in the musical, and probably received three or four marriage proposals….

That night in our motel room in the Ticonderoga woods, wearing her sleeveless blue nightgown, Mama held me, singing softly, "Mimi, my baby, Mommy loves her, Mommy loves her Mimi."

Back home, under a psychiatrist's care, I was allowed to take it easy the rest of the summer. When the inevitable back-to-school coolness crept into the sultry North Carolina evenings, signaling it was time to return to college, I was ready to move on with my life.

And in the 33 years since, Mama has never uttered a chiding or shaming word about my drop-out summer.

A former journalist turned personal essayist, Mimi Peel Roughton lives in Durham, North Carolina with her second husband, an architect. Between them, they have five grown children.

Twenty-eighth Flash

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