Last month I watched 30 whole minutes of a movie before realizing it had been filmed in my own hometown. That’s how long it took for me to feel that famous shock of recognition.

Last month I watched 30 whole minutes of a movie before realizing it had been filmed in my own hometown. That’s how long it took for me to feel that famous shock of recognition.


Suddenly I realized I recognized this bridge and those chesty buildings. I recognized the very light even; for light over water has a special look, and my city is a city of waters, with canals and pounding falls and locks connecting the same two rivers Henry David Thoreau himself once paddled down.


I was not born in this city, really, but I think of it as my hometown anyway, because I moved there as a young child from a place where none of the kids I went to school with lived anywhere near me.


Here in this new place, the world opened up for me. I got to go to the public schools, and ride bikes with my classmates every day.


I fell in love with every tree in our neighborhood, with the bell Mrs. Talbot used to summon her kids home, with the snuffling sounds the dogs made on their jingling early-morning rounds.


Seeing that movie brought it all back.


"What an Eden!" I kept thinking as I watched and remembered. "How lucky I was to live in a place with parades and a positive jewel case of a little library and every high school formal like an old-time cotillion with an actual Grand March!"


All this was last month.


This month, on the very first hour of the first day it was showing, I drove back "home" to see a second movie that was not only filmed in this city but was about some of the city’s hardest years, now thankfully behind her.


It tells the story of a boxer and his relationship with the family that both encouraged him and held him back. 


We see the peeling paint, the abandoned mill buildings, the local jail where a neighborhood dad took his little sons to put the fear of God in them as he told us all.


In other words, we see a much darker picture of the city I grew up in, whose problems are every city’s problems.


Some fear all cities, saying there is danger in them. Maybe there is.


There was danger in first-century Bethlehem too, and probably more danger in the Bethlehem of our own time.


Once, curfews were mandatory in all cities, partly because no street was safe before the dawn of artificial light.


The home wasn’t safe either: The word "curfew" is from the French. "Cover the fire" it means, since always there was a great fear of conflagration and rightly so: In 1666 four-fifths of the great city of London was destroyed by an oven fire in the king’s own bakery.


You could say there is danger wherever there are people.


Or wild animals.


Or disease.


Or even weather.


And yet we lie down each night in faith that all will be well.


What affection I feel for my old city as I write this, and why?


Because we are like the infant in its mother’s arms: What we look on when we first come awake in life is what we love and think of as home.


The darkness finds us there.


And so we light the lamps, and lie down and take our rest.


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net or c/o Ravenscroft Press, P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA, 01890. To read more of Terry’s thoughts on these two films and this city of Lowell, Mass., Google her name and their titles, “The Invention of Lying” and “The Fighter.”