Tuesday, October 19, 2010

James Edwin MacPherson

August 10, 1944 to October 17, 2010
At one end of our family portrait, we have Donald George, at the other end, some seventeen years later, came Lee Alexander (me). Our sister, Xandra Fredress, was born about a year after Don, and John Alan is older than me by six years. Jim arrived right smack in the middle.

He was named after our mom's brother-in-law (James Fasken Green), and two of her uncles (James and Edwin Spence). Before he was born, the doctor told Mom that she'd have to start this one on steak. She couldn't afford that, so he probably started with old workboots. I'm not entirely sure that he spat the nails out.

As I mentioned, Alan is six years older than me, and a for long time, he was too grown up to give me a lot of thought, but I always felt that Jim and I had each found somebody our own age to play with. Our mother disapproved of guns as toys, so over the years, Jim's allowance and his odd job money financed the formidable secret arsenal that we kept hidden under his bed.

He had Josh Randall's mare's leg Winchester, Paladin's derringer and business cards, Dick Tracy's .38 Detective Special, a pot-metal Luger, and of course there was the Fanner 50. It was a pretty fair replica of a Colt .44 Peacemaker. Jim's had plastic staghorn grips, and it lived in a plain brown leather gunfighter's holster.

Jim taught me to wear my pistolo low on my hip, so that the ball of my right thumb was level with the hammer when I walked, and I tied the rawhide lace just above my knee, so my draw would be smooth and fast. But he also taught me that the faster draw didn't matter as much as the better shot.

He taught me that it's better to be the one who finishes the fight than the one who starts it. Finally, he told me that it was always better to walk on the right side of the law - I found out later that that was just because he had more fun being the villain. That didn't matter though. I liked the star that he pinned on my shirt!

Jim taught me all the gunfighter ballads he knew, and we were both deeply and permanently scarred because Dad wouldn't let us keep horses in the basement. Later, he taught me how to use hand tools, how to talk to girls and how to drink within my limitations. I won't say that he taught me how to lie, but he did know how to enhance a good story!

Over the years, bits of him would go missing - a couple of fingers, a thumb - nothing that really mattered. Finally, his union didn't see any alternative to making him a safety training officer. After all, he was the one who knew all of the things you shouldn't do.

Cancer started taking other bits of him away, but he beat it once. He was in remission for five years. When my friends told me that people that they loved had been diagnosed with cancer, I spoke Jim's name to them like some kind of magical spell, and I watched the hope take light in their eyes. But, the cancer came back - or another came along, and Jim died at about two o'clock one October Sunday morning.

Over the years, it seems that most of my family has lost touch with Mom's and Dad's religion. I've been skeptical of the Great Cosmic Fabrication for a long time now, but I rather think that Jim believed in a dry, dusty, faded frontier Valhalla, where six-guns rest on scarred poker tables with marked cards and cheap whiskey. Maybe today the bat-wing doors of an old saloon will swing open, and a stranger will walk in, with the brim of his Stetson pulled low to shade his icy, blue eyes from the sunlight reflected in the barroom mirror. The quick, tough hombres at the bar will freeze and fall silent for a moment, their gun-hands shivering like leaves - is it cold? - is it...something else?

Look out, boys. There's a new ranger in town, his hands are lightning, and he's wearing my old star.


  1. Hi Lee, thanks for sharing those memories. Reminded me a lot of my uncle Ray who lived with us while we were growing up.

  2. Hello Lee,
    Very eloquant. Makes me want to write about my brother 5 years older than me also lost to cancer.
    Thanx Don

  3. I really wish I could give him a chance for rebuttal.