As a writer, one of the things I’m drawn to is a narrative with a strong sense of place. I recently returned to my hometown of Denver, Pa., to give a talk and do a book signing for my father’s high school alumni banquet. Denver had about 1,500 people when we lived there, and while it’s a little bigger now, it remains much as I remember it as a child.
It still has one stoplight, and Main Street doesn’t look all that different than it did when my grandparents ran an electrical store there.
In fact, Denver’s strong sense of place actually made it a character in my book, The Man Who Thought Like a Ship. When I talk about the book, I often introduce the town by noting that I went to elementary school in the same building that my father did. Behind that building is a cemetery in which you can find the graves of my great- and great great-grandparents.
That continuity, that stability, was fundamental to my father’s story. Much of who he was stems from the town, and Denver itself is a character in the book.
For that matter, much of who I am stems from my early childhood there. As if to drive home the point, the night after the alumni dinner, I got together with some friends I knew in elementary school. Many of my classmates still live in the area. Like me, much of who my father was is rooted in Denver’s unique persona.
As I note in the book, Denver also played a special role in the history of nautical archaeology. Though it’s a good 120 miles from tidewater, it was briefly the worldwide headquarters for nautical archaeology. My father was born there and grew up there, of course, but in 1975, George Bass and his family returned to the United States with plans to found what would become the Institute of Nautical Archaeology.
Unsure where to go, the Basses moved to Denver so George and my father would be better able to plan their next move. Eventually, of course, they affiliated their fledgling institute with Texas A&M University, but for about about nine months, tiny, land-locked Denver was the center of all the activity.