Argument as Life: Notes on My Father

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TH St. Clair, 1967, Marion County, Indiana Courthouse.

As my plane climbed into the sky over Portland on its way to Indianapolis, the pilot tilted the jet so that we could all get an Instagram-perfect view down on our local volcano and I flashed back to an afternoon in 1992 when my mother, Doreen, and father, TH St. Clair, had made one of their trips out the Pacific Northwest to see us. TH had picked up a book on Mt. Hood at Powell’s and he said, “Ever climb that mountain?” “Not yet,” I said. “Why not? I read here that a woman climbed it in her wedding dress after the ceremony. Up and down in a couple of hours. How hard could it be? Why don’t we do it?” How hard could it be? Well, Mt. Hood isn’t the biggest of the Cascade Volcanoes, but it does soar to 11,000 feet. It has snowfields and glaciers, crevasses and cliffs, fumeroles and toxic gasses leaking from the hot rocks up top. He was feeling frisky in those days. It had been 8 years since the doctors had told him his heart was dying and he had turned his life around. In the end, we didn’t tackle the summit, but we did hike up and down high elevation canyons to the blazing wildflower meadows of Paradise Park. Still it was clear to me that the old confidence and bravado and optimism was back. The kind of bravado that drove him as a star college baseball player to chase a fly-ball hit to deep centerfield so hard that he ending up leaping over the fence to catch it, snagging his pants as he fell to the…

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