My Real Life Modern Family

Nephew: An Essay

Image via Splash

When poet/memoirist Rosanne Singer relocates to her native Baltimore from California, her relationship to the city and the people she meets surprises her; her connection to a man who calls himself “Nephew” hits harder.

He introduced himself this way:

I was locked up 34 years for murder. I just got out in February. They call me Nephew.

This was the summer of 2019, shortly after I’d moved with our dog to Charles Village in Baltimore. My husband stayed in California to work, I returned east and now lived in a one-bedroom apartment across the street from my middle sister and her family. She had lobbied for me to live close by and had long forgiven my childhood bullying.

Liz: Cat Lady, Rat Lady, Girl Next Door


Hilary Sigismondi–a University of Baltimore student in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program–pays homage to her one-of-a-kind Baltimore neighbor, Liz. Read her first Baltimore Fishbowl entry here.

We couldn’t figure out where the rats were coming from. We were used to the mice—that was something you learned to live with when your house was almost 100 years old. But rats as big as house cats? Holy hell. We heard them rooting around in the kitchen while we sat on the couch in the living room watching TV. We heard squeaks and the rough sound of boxes moving in the pantry and the clinking of the plates and water glasses sitting in the dish drainer when rats trampled over them causing them to collide. One time I opened the door to the overhead cupboard above the microwave and a rat jumped out and flew right past me. He was so close I felt his fur against my arm.

Sisters of Pantry Pride

vintage image via Pinterest

Just in time for Halloween, Baltimore-born playwright/actor/director and fiction writer Kimberley Lynne recounts the evening she and her mother gallivanted in most conspicuous costumes. 

In 1976, my mother and I portrayed nuns in The Sound of Music at Baltimore Actors Theatre at St. Timothy’s School in Stevenson. During tech week, or the week before opening, we had to wash our habits at home, and after one late rehearsal, we decided we were too tired to take off our costumes and climbed into the orange Volkswagen bus in full nun regalia.

Power Play



courtesy of

This essay was written in the early days of the pandemic, when the novel Coronavirus was actually novel. It’s a snapshot of one family at the start of a new world. Back then I carried with me a naïve certainty that one day we’d look back on this time and say, “Remember when we lived through a pandemic?” Thanks to the Delta variant, everything in our lives has been thrown into flux once again. For all of those out there in similar binds, here’s to living bravely and believing that, as Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.” –author Danielle Ariano

“We’re building a house!” my son squealed as we walked outside with a roll of tape and eight large squares of cardboard.

“Oooohh I’m so excited,” I said.

“Ooohhhhh,” Cooper repeated, holding his fists in the air and shaking them.

A month ago, my wife, Lindsay, and I had been thrust into the role of rotating stay-at-home moms to our two-and-a-half-year-old when his daycare closed because of the pandemic. Our lives now consisted of watching Cooper or working. We kept telling ourselves it was temporary. How long could this possibly last?

Reading Little Women to My Mother

The author as a child with her family on Easter Sunday, 1965.

Kathleen Shemer remembers her mother’s great affection for one novel in particular and her own love/hate relationship with the very same book. Shemer, an attorney and published poet, is a lifelong Maryland resident. 

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to read her favorite book to her, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. According to my mother, all nice little girls read Little Women, but today the 19th- century book has fallen out of fashion. You may only know it from director Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation that retells the story of four, poverty-stricken sisters shepherded to adulthood during the Civil War by their saintly, ever-patient mother, Marmee, as she was called by the girls.

The Sound of Silence

Luna the cat

Emma Spicknall left home to finish college in a brand-new city just as COVID hit. Here, the University of Baltimore senior recounts her youthful year in quarantine. This is her first published essay.

I have always found comfort in the quiet moments of life. Life is what happens to us between cacophony and noise. I grew up in Southern Maryland on a pocket of farmland dwarfed on every side by metropolitan centers. I took my driver’s test on a road with pitched signs that warned to watch for horses and buggies crossing the road, quaint silhouettes on cautious yellow. Traveling to the mall necessitated an entire day of planning, and “public transportation” was a ghost of a phrase that died without so much as a whimper.

Lying in Tommy True Court

The author, right, with her brother, Bill Ford, circa 1998.

University of Baltimore M.F.A. student Noelle Ford remembers growing up in Baltimore County, and what could be said inside her house versus outside it. Noelle is a Spanish teacher at Friends School of Baltimore.

I grew up in a corner rowhouse of Tommy True Court, a Baltimore County neighborhood peninsula-ed by the Liquor Pump and a car auction lot. Tommy True was full of identical houses with mostly mowed lawns and mostly rusty lawn chairs out front. In winter, these lawn chairs migrated to the parking lot where they guarded freshly shoveled parking spaces.

Spilling the T


When University of Baltimore MFA student Joshua Cole decided to transition, he suddenly felt motherless. Then one day, Coretta showed up…

I don’t believe in ghosts. Most days, I barely believe in Jesus. But ask me about my faith in fairy godmothers, and I’ll crack a smile as wide as Wyoming. You see, earlier this year I was issued my very own fairy godmother. Ms. Etta Coretta is her name. Six feet, three inches of midnight royalty, a drag queen of the highest order. Her liquid eyeliner makes her green eyes pop like four-leaf clovers on LSD. High-heeled in halter-cut gowns—that woman knows how to dress. She speaks hard truths swaddled in blankets of kindness, but she’s quick to call me on my bullshit. Ms. Etta Coretta’s the badass bitch you want in your corner. She’s the momma I wish I had.

The Village

The author in 1969.

University of Baltimore MFA student Hilary Sigismondi remembers her childhood in Baltimore City as a series of sweet treats and staggering surprises. With her entry, we’re pleased to welcome back Baltimore Fishbowl’s “My Real Life Modern Family” column series, which features creative nonfiction from local writers.  

I grew up in Loch Raven Village, a neighborhood right off the number No. 3 bus line, about a mile north of Baltimore City. I caught this bus with my widowed grandmother to go shopping at the Hutzler’s department store downtown. We sat side by side in blue plastic seats and looked out the window to watch familiar landmarks flash past: the A&P grocery store where I shopped on Saturday mornings with my dad; Ken’s Big Boy restaurant where my best friend Tina and I devoured 99-cent ice cream sundaes in mini paper cups filled to the brim with hot fudge; and the #11 fire station, located directly across the street from the entranceway to the long, winding road that led to the Kiwanis Swim Club where I spent practically every summer day. I loved hanging out at the pool. It was one of the rare things our family did together and, best of all, my parents seemed to love each other there.

People of Nowhere: A Meditation on Syria

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive in Greece.

This piece of writing is a brief biography of Syrians. I refuse to use the word refugees throughout because I wanted to emphasize the fact that they are individual groups — they are people who have names and a country which they love.

Men and women who are suffering. Men and women who do not have a place to lay their heads. Men and women who cannot call a place their home, because their homes are taken and they have no refuge.

I offer this essay as a reminder of countless displaced Syrians thousands of miles away.

This Blind Man’s Life


University of Baltimore student Matt Harris is almost totally blind and partially deaf, and yet he attends his college classes, earns good grades, parents two young women, and finds a reason (almost) never to complain. Is he superhuman, insane or somehow wiser than most? Read on.

“What’s up Mattiac,” my neighbor answered, calling me by the nickname she had given me.

“Well. I have good news and bad news,” I said into my cell. “First, the bad. I ran over your son’s shoes with my lawnmower. The good news is his feet weren’t in them.”

The Little Cloud that Cried…Or How to Chill in July

image via pinterest
image via pinterest

University of Baltimore MFA grad Sue Loweree remembers her ice-skating contest/identity crisis. It’s such a cathartic read, especially in the Baltimore summertime, you’ll likely shiver.

The Omaha Convention Center is a big, cold building with ceilings as high as our new two-story house. I follow Mom and Miss Darby, the skating coach down the hall listening to them talk about Thursday night lessons.

21 Flowers: A Potion for Luck and Powerful Change


When University of Baltimore MFA grad Elisa Estrella returns to a botánica for the first time in years, she’s nervous as can be. She remembers feeling faint in just such a spiritual space as a child. As an adult, she’s desperately seeking change, so she steps inside.

I moved to Baltimore for a new job in the summer of 2008. About one month after I started work, the stock market crashed, and four months later, so did my new job. Thanks to a referral from a friend in my business network, I got a job working for a small federal contractor in the DC area. It meant a long commute from Baltimore and significantly less pay, but I was desperate.

I Wanna Stay Home and Make Gumbo with You, Ma


Right in time for Mother’s Day, University of Baltimore MFA candidate Tara Orchard writes about working with her mom in the kitchen. In the beginning, her mom taught her how to crack an egg and cook an elaborate meal, then the tables turned.

My mother’s kitchen is small. And in a small kitchen, there is one thing that you need to know: you need to dance—in a manner of speaking. Since my mother and I developed our own dance long ago, there is never a problem when we cook and there hasn’t been for many years. A hand to the hip—step to the side. A reach across—take a step back. Just saying a name: Get out of my way, woman, this pot is hot! Like many things though, this dance took time, and it had to start somewhere.

Over the Threshold


Writer Mariette Storr recalls coming of age in the Bahamas, where “the remnants of colonialism lingered like a dense mist.” This essay is part of her MFA thesis at the University of Baltimore.

Through the corner, around the bend and I was home. I pushed open the mesh screen door of our store to access the shortest route to the tiny hallway that led to the room I shared with three sisters. My breathing labored, I peeled out of my school uniform, grabbed a pair of white short pants and a blue blouse, my school’s track club ensemble, and escaped to the back yard. I stared up at the mango tree laden with plump, golden-reddish fruit. I propped my left foot against the lowest limb of this tree, the opposite hand gripped the closest branch, my right foot hoisted upward, and with repeat motion I finally perched myself comfortably on a top limb.  I seized a fat one and plucked it with both hands. One bite after another, the sweet chunks oozed streams of juice that ran down my arms, leaving a trail for my tongue to follow.