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.

My three older brothers caught the No. 3 at 6:30 in the morning and then transferred to the No. 8 to get to their school all the way across town. I admired them for choosing to travel so far to attend my father’s alma mater, Mt. St. Joe High School, rather than the more popular all boys’ school a mile away. My mother thought it ridiculous and insisted they only did it to please my father; it was the source of many an argument. My elementary school, The Immaculate Heart of Mary, was five blocks from our house, so I walked. When I was younger, my brother J.J. accompanied me and held my hand the entire way. After he graduated from the eighth grade, I was on my own. Once I entered high school, I too boarded the No. 3 bus and was proud to join the ranks of those who used mass transit to get to school.

When our parents refused to drive us to Memorial Stadium on 33rd St. to watch the Orioles play baseball–because they weren’t “at our beck-and-call”–Tina and I pooled our change, grabbed sweatshirts and hopped on the bus.

Loch Raven Village was built in the early 1950s and consisted of 25 tree-lined streets. Each block had a dozen adjoining brick townhouses with club basements, one bathroom and hardwood floors. My mother spent hours polishing and waxing those floors. Once, she did this prior to a crab feast my parents were hosting–the one and only time I remember them “entertaining”–and the floors were so slippery her best friend, Patty Thomas, slipped and broke her arm. Ms. Patty wore a thick black sling for months and their relationship was never the same.

The homes had small concrete porches with black iron railings and front doors with brass doorknockers and plastic wreaths the size of steering wheels. Backyards were fenced-in, grassy rectangles filled with bright yellow Forsythia bushes, metal swing sets, homemade doghouses, clotheslines, push mowers, banana-seat bikes, basketball hoops, stacks of baseball bats, cleats caked with mud, barbeque grills, bags of Kingsford charcoal and picnic tables. Wide back alleys were woven through the neighborhood like cement trails. Rob’s snowball stand, one of the first of its kind, operated out of a family garage and faced the third base line of our miniature baseball diamond.  Rob stored massive blocks of ice in red Igloo coolers for his snowballs. He used an ice pick to chip, chip, chip away until there were clear chunks small enough to insert in his metal machine which churned out cups of crushed ice. His hands looked wet and raw when he grabbed for a flavored syrup from the row of sticky bottles–Cola, Cherry, Egg Custard, Sky Blue and Chocolate–to pour over the chopped “snow.” A large plastic tub of marshmallow cream sat next to the cups, covered with foil to keep the bees away. I couldn’t get enough of that marshmallow and, even though it cost extra, I refused to eat my daily chocolate snowball without it.

More than once, Rob, in the middle of crushing ice, cursed my brother J.J. for hitting a line drive ball past his head into the stacks of Styrofoam cups. Families came from miles around to buy snowballs from Rob, and word had it he made enough money to put himself through college.

Everyone knew the houses at the end of the row were better and the houses that sat on the corner were the best. Those houses had bay windows, side yards and wood fireplaces. Our house was on the corner of Kennoway and Glen Ridge Road, and I knew Cindy Anderson was jealous because her house was sandwiched between the Thompsons and the Halls. On the rare occasions, we were in her house–her parents didn’t like neighborhood kids coming inside–it felt dark, cramped and noisy. You could hear adults arguing and babies crying through the walls.

Our backyard had a cracked oval patio spread under a basketball hoop that served as both a court and a stage for our family parties. Four purple lilac bushes, as big as small trees, stood in the corners against the white picket fence, and two aluminum garbage cans with lids stood against the gate to the alley. A large maple grew in the center of the yard, and, on Saturday afternoons, my father hung his transistor radio on a low branch and listened to the baseball game while drinking a beer and mowing the lawn.

After one particularly horrific argument in 1975, my father shocked my mother and put our house up for sale. She had dared him to do it many times, but this time he called her bluff. It sold in two days before my mother had a chance to “take it all back.” They paid the outstanding debts, of which there were many, and filed for divorce. My brothers, who were away at college at the time, never returned to their childhood home, and my sister, who had already moved out, didn’t take much notice. She seemed perfectly content to live alone in her downtown studio apartment with her potter’s wheel and cat. I witnessed it all and quickly became a depressed eighth grader. My big brothers, who always looked out for me and made me feel loved, weren’t around, and my mother, who was both terrified and exhilarated, resented that she still had one more kid that needed to be cared for. She and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment about a mile south of the city line; my father did the same. We all still lived along the No. 3 bus line, which gave me great comfort. Over the years, my mother often wondered aloud whether she and my father might have stayed together if the house hadn’t sold so quickly.

Years later, my grandmother surprised everyone by marrying an old-timer named George, a retired saxophone player who told dirty jokes and drank bourbon on the rocks. She seemed happy and I spent many afternoons with them playing Gin Rummy and eating as many chocolates as I wanted from the Whitman’s Sampler box.  She eventually stopped taking the bus and died in her sleep watching her favorite soap opera, “The Secret Storm.”

My mother never stopped accusing my father of forcing my brothers to go to Mt. St. Joe’s. Whenever their paths crossed, she brought it up:

“Why in the hell did you make teenage boys get up at 5 a.m. to take two buses to get to school?”

“You turned them into ‘pussies,’” my father yelled back at her–this was for driving them to school in the pouring rain.

To this day, my brothers insist they weren’t forced and say they are grateful for the experience. In fact, my brother’s son made the same choice and to the day she died my mother insisted my brother pressured him.

My father stopped drinking, remarried and rehabbed a house in Lewes, Delaware, with his wife, Leslie, who never accused him of anything. They were married for over 20 years–longer than my parents–until my dad died in the middle of the night and broke Leslie’s heart. The Kiwanis Swim club closed in the early 1980s.

They tore Memorial Stadium down in 2002. Tina and I remained best friends through college, then I became a stay-at-home mom and she pursued a career. She stopped by once in the afternoon when the kids were little and I was wearing a red- and blue- checkered flannel nightgown making a papier mâché piñata for Nick’s birthday. She wore a perfectly pressed suit with pearls and high heels. She and her husband eventually moved to Delaware and bought a huge house with a living room decorated all in white. I discovered that when I visited her once wearing a long black skirt and black turtleneck. We talk on the phone once and a while, but now the only things that connect us are memories. I doubt she ever took a transit bus again, and after her father died, she insisted her mother move out of Loch Raven Village into a better neighborhood.

In 2017, despite the community’s strong opposition, Baltimore City completely overhauled mass transit. It scrapped its old bus routes and put in a new system. The routes were renamed colors such as Lime, Gold, and Navy; the No. 3 is Orange. Many families, who live a mile north of the Baltimore city line, won’t dare drive downtown, let alone take a bus. Snowball stands are in every neighborhood now and offer dozens of flavors with a choice of crushed or shaved ice. My order remains the same: chocolate syrup with marshmallow on the bottom and the top.

22 replies on “The Village”

  1. I’m confused. Loch Raven Village is in Baltimore County, a wonderful neighborhood where I’ve lived for many years. Why are these memories from Baltimore City?

    1. You are right Suzanne. The paragraph introducing the piece should have said Baltimore County. I hope you enjoyed it all the same.

    2. Yes, you are right, Suzanne. The introductory paragraph should had said Baltimore County. I hope you enjoyed it all the same!

  2. I loved reading this….and can picture the alleys, snow ball stand. Of course, Memorial Stadium.

  3. Mussula Road here, the alleys were our playground – basketball all the time, wiffle ball, and of course baseball and football on “the lot”, what used to be the empty lot at the corner of Mussula and Loch Raven Blvd. Safe, fun, mother’s yelling out into the alley for their kids to come home for dinner.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! My mom had a bell she used to ring to bring us home for supper! (As well as yelling for us.)

  4. Great article. Thanks for reminding me how wonderful life was in the Village. Wow…There is no place like Loch Raven Village. I too was born and raised in the village, on LRB a few houses down from Feldbrook. But of course “our” side of the boulevard was better than your side. 🙂 What an awesome idea to make all those wide concrete alleys for the kids. Kids were everywhere, family sizes of 4 or more were not uncommon, we had 7. Nearly every house in our neighborhood had kids. The alleys were awesome, the veins of the Village where our lives were connected to people all over the village. I remember playing Red Line and hopscotch and hide and seek, and pony rides in the alleys, and alley vendors selling vegetables and snowballs and the Good Humor man. I too attended IHM in the ’60s and then Calvert Hall. Kiwana’s was cool! As a kid I was always getting in trouble at the pool, I remember Mrs. Ennis at the front desk who would eye me up knowing I was trouble. And Mr. Kiddy the manager who was always having me pick up cigarette butts as a punishment when I got in trouble. And of course don’t forget Luskins fireworks, and Santa on the firetruck at Christmas time, and walking on LRB when there were big snowstorms, and the fairs and sledding at Pleasant Plains… Wow, we had it made.

    Those were the days my friend…

    1. Joe- I love your comments! Thanks so much for posting. There are so many things to remember! Mrs. Ennis never liked me either. lol
      Mr. Kiddy taught be to swim and I remember staring up at his hug armpit! He was always so tan. Did you every play “stick”? That was the big game of our block.

  5. I live in the house I grew up in, on Kennoway Rd. That garage is directly across the alley from my yard. I do remember Rob’s snowball stand and all the hours his parents spent during the summer, shaving ice. Lots of great memories between the Village and the Kiwanis pool. My brother and I spent our summers there.

    1. If memory serves me correctly, Rob was selected to attend Archbishop Curley High School. In order to attend, he would need transportation services – hence the beginning of the snowball stand to raise Transportation money for High School!

      Another memory is sleigh riding behind the Orchard Inn Restaurant. Where Orchard Tree Lane is now, there was a huge gulley back there. We would build bon fires in large metal drums and sleigh ride for hours.

    2. Hi Pat- Thanks so much for commenting. Did you live next door to the Hammils? (sp) I love this information about Rob. I didn’t even realize he went to Curly.

  6. I just sold my home on Delleway Rd after living there for 55 years. It was a wonderful place to live and raise my 5 children. We saw the opening of Pleasant Plains Elem. Loch Raven High and I think even the middle school. The alley was a place of fun games and a few arguments everything was walkable or reached by a bike We had many different neighbors over the years and learned that there are some wonderful people. Unlike some couples my husband and I remained happily married for 65 years until he passed away. Lovh Raven Village was a wonderful place to live. That’s why we stayed so long.

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