The Loss and The Key

Sam Kindrick
Sam Kindrick
Sam Kindrick

I have survived both bladder and thyroid cancer. A ruptured appendix many years ago almost did me in, and I received third-degree leg burns in a senseless gasoline fire that could have killed me. Such minor inconveniences are hardly worth mentioning.

The physical pain from the surgeon’s scalpel, and mishaps inflicted by the machinery of man, are nothing when compared with the emotional pain of irretrievable loss.

I experienced that loss on the night of February 15, 1993. My first-born child, son Grady Michael Kindrick, killed himself with a .38 caliber pistol in the backyard of his mother’s home on Harriett Street in San Antonio. He had just broken up with his longtime girlfriend. It was the day after Valentine’s Day. He was 36.

I was working late in my small Action Magazine office on Broadway when I got the call. I was recently divorced at the time. The call was from my youngest of two sons, Steven, who with his older brother Grady had been staying with his mother in what had been our family home. Our daughter Gena, my youngest, was living with her mother Vicky. Grady was living in the home on Harriett Street after separating from the girlfriend, and Steve had recently moved back from Florida where he had been working in the nursing home industry.

I picked up the phone.


Steven was hyperventillating.

I knew something was wrong.

“Daddy, you have to get over here. Grady shot himself. He’s dead.”

This could not be. I could not make myself believe this. Some kind of crazy hallucination on Steve’s part. Someone must have given him a laced joint.

I went numb as I drove to my ex-wife’s house. It was close to midnight. I saw flashing lights. Police cars. An ambulance. Two cops were waiting for me when I arrived. One escorted me through the house and into the backyard. I saw Grady on the ground. He had shot himself in the head. His body was covered by a sheet. I think they were waiting for a coroner. At the time of Grady’s suicide, I hadn’t had a drink of alcohol or any drug for three years. Some predicted that I would drink over Grady’s death.

I didn’t want to drink. I wanted to die.

The night of Grady’s death I drove back to the tarpaper shack in Bulverde where I lived alone with my dog. I recall dropping to my knees and trying to look skyward through a flood of tears.

Dear Jesus in Heaven, I prayed. Please bring my boy back and take me instead.

I was raised by a Christian mother, attending services and Sunday school in the Junction First Baptist Church. But I didn’t make a real contact with God until I sobered up in a recovery program which stressed belief in a power greater than myself.

I sobbed and hated the uncontrollable tears. It was years later that I was to take comfort in the words on tears by 19th century writer Washington Irving who wrote: There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a sign of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Grady’s sister Gena found his body.

She had been to a concert with a friend when she stopped at the White Room, a nightclub frequented by Gena and her older brother.

Gena recalled: “Me and a friend stopped at the White Room and a guy we knew said Grady asked him for bullets. I have no idea if he got any from him. The bartender gave me a cocktail napkin that Grady had written on, listing all the jewelry he was wearing. I had a bad feeling, so I went home to look for him and found him in the backyard already dead.”

One of the policemen at the scene of Grady’s death put his arm around my shoulders and said, “I know who you are, and I know you might not care for policemen. But I truly feel for you, and I want you to know that this is the hardest part of police work for me. I will say a prayer for you tonight.”

I didn’t get the cop’s name. I never forgot him. My hard shell of resentment for authority was showing its first crack.

While driving away from my former home and the scene of my son’s death, I can recall mental flashbacks which have faded but never disappeared from my soul and my human psyche. I held Grady in the palm of my hand after his premature birth in a Bay City hospital. My first job after college was editorship of a tiny weekly called The Bay City News. Grady weighed 3.5 pounds at birth. Vicky and I were overwhelmed with both joy and apprehension. Would he even make it? By the time he was a year old he was the size of a normal yearling.

The scenes rocketing through my brain on that fateful night were vivid and almost palpable.

Grady on the little stool. He was about 3 then and his hair was curly and golden blond. Short pants and little white shoes. The cutest little kid God ever made. Grady in the visitor’s booth at Bexar County Jail. He brought me soap and tobacco. He was my only visitor when I was locked up. Grady trying to find me a lawyer. He had no money, but he tried. I learned from friends that he worried about me. Grady the night before Willie’s first picnic when Nelson introduced him to his idol–Leon Russell. The memories, the guilt. The physical fight I had with my son. Why didn’t I do better? Why didn’t we go fishing more? Why didn’t I do more? I know now that I was never really unselfish and mature enough to be a real father to my son. I was a friend, a running mate, and a confidant. We loved each other until it literally hurt, but I didn’t know what to do with it at the time.

Grady dropped out of Robert E. Lee High School, later passing a General Education Development (GED) test. He wrote a couple of record reviews for Action Magazine. I could see the talent and the potential, but the kid didn’t get the direction and help that he needed. When I started Action Magazine in 1975, Grady wanted to work for me. I wore turquoise jewelry. Grady wore turquoise jewelry. I wore cowboy boots, Grady wore cowboy boots. Grady helped me with photography and some photo lab work, but the little magazine just didn’t bring in enough revenue for the two of us. He bounced from one odd job to the next, telling me once shortly before his death: “I have never done one damn thing for myself. I have wasted so much.”

A red flag. Perhaps. But I didn’t see it. Who in the hell in my world had ever heard of something called clinical depression?

The bewilderment and sense of disbelief when one loses a child like I lost Grady must certainly have some spiritual connection to God’s animal kingdom. I saw it when my Jack Russell terrier Henry caught and killed a baby redbird that had left its nest in a hanging plant on our front porch. Three other fledglings had apparently left the nest successfully, leaving this last one. It was the baby’s first and last attempt at flight.

I knew the fledgling cardinals were feathered out and ready for flight. I should have locked the dog in the backyard. It was my fault, not Henry’s. Jack Russell terriers are hunters, born and bred to attack and kill. They are lightning quick. When the baby redbird fluttered down on the yard grass, the dog ended its life.

It was a poignant lesson for Sharon and me. The hardest part was watching the adult redbirds after their baby’s death. Cardinals mate for life, both mother and father feeding the young. With nothing but scattered feathers left of their baby, the parents were obviously in a high state of stress, squawking piteously as they flew to their now-empty nest, then to the ground, then back to the nest. They had lost their baby. They were frantic. They could not understand. In their own fashion, I am sure they were crying. I knew the near panic of inscrutable emptiness and the need to cry out. To scream for help.

Since Grady’s death, my faith has strengthened. Although I have not been a regular church man, my Higher Power is the God of my childhood. My God walked on water and raised a man from the dead some 2,000 years ago, and, yes, his name is Jesus Christ. His spirit still saves and heals, springing drunks and dope addicts I have known and worked with from their own furnace of man-made fire. I will never get over Grady’s death; but with God’s help, I have been able to get through it.

I know I will see Grady and other loved ones again. For me, Heaven will surely include the beautiful, burbling clear waters of the South Llano River where I grew up. My wife Sharon and all of my loved ones will be there, and every dog and cat I ever owned will be on hand to greet me. And I won’t be surprised if a certain little redbird is there, sitting safely on a high branch and keeping a sharp eye on Henry the Jack Russell terrier.

As this autobiography winds down, some might wonder why I withheld my son’s death until the last of this project. It was not part of a script. It was part of my personal pain that I put off as long as my mind would allow.

My younger son, Steven Howard Kindrick, died January 3, 2019, from small cell lung cancer. He was born August 23, 1958, in Shannon Memorial Hospital in San Angelo while I worked for the San Angelo Standard-Times. Vicky Kindrick, my former wife and mother of my three children, died of natural causes January 22, 2021, in San Antonio. She was born June 30, 1937.

There were bright spots in the latter days of Action Magazine, three anniversary shows at Texas Pride Barbecue that showcased musicians who ranged from Kinky Friedman and Johnny Bush to Alex Harvey, Johnny Rodriguez, and Darrell McCall. These and hundreds more like them are the artists who graced the pages of Action for 44 years.

The big surprise for me was my inclusion into the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, a huge honor which sees my work included with such Texas writer giants as Larry McMurtry and Carmac McCarthy, as well as musicians the likes of Willie Nelson, Ray Benson, and Jerry Jeff Walker. I graduated from the San Marcos university in 1957 when it was Southwest Texas State College. Sadly, Bill Wittliff, who started the museum on Texas talent, died before I had a chance to meet him. He was the Texas screenwriter who co-produced The Redheaded Stranger movie with Willie Nelson and crafted the screen version of Lonesome Dove.

My entrance into the Wittliff can be attributed to former Express-News music columnist Hector Saldana, now music curator at the Wittliff and leader of San Antonio’s Tex-Mex rock band The Krayolas. I wrote the first story ever printed on the Krayolas when Hector and his brother David were teenagers. Now Hector’s boys are in the band. 

The Wittliff Collections represent a giant museum of works by Texas journalist writers, photographers, musicians, and screenwriters. This vast body of works encompasses the entire seventh floor of the Texas State Alkek Library, and it continues to grow.

My Wittliff exhibit ties in with the outlaw country music outbreak of the 1970s when Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker, and a few others led a limited exodus of artists from the constraints of Nashville. These were the so-called “outlaws of country music” who traded their traditional sequined coats and ostrich boots for head rags and tennis shoes, who broke from the giant record label sounds and sheen of Nashville, choosing instead to sign with smaller independent labels while hiring their own record producers, engineers, and side men for the recording sessions.

If these were the “outlaws” of country music, then I became the outlaw journalist who hung out with them and wrote about them. My exhibit at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State features me in a Mexican sombrero with a very suspicious-looking cigarette smoking between two of my fingers. Action Magazine copies covering 44 years are stored and on display in my Wittliff exhibit, as well as old columns that go back to my 1960s and early 1970s years as a reporter and columnist for the San Antonio Express and News.

So here we are, maybe at the ending for me and maybe not. Bill Shakespeare would say I seem to have survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Bill Wilson would say that God has transformed me from a churlish foul-mouthed Mr. Hyde into a much happier and much more pleasant Dr. Jekyll.

Some refer to this transformation as a spiritual awakening or a psychic change. Sobriety for me means far more than abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Sobriety means sanity, gratitude, and a spiritual way of life that defies adequate description. While my Higher Power is a Jewish carpenter, my state of spirituality goes beyond the structure of organized religion.

I love my wife Sharon and I will tell anyone who will listen that I have a five-foot wife and a kick-ass fairy tale life, all the result of sobriety and my faith in God. I was a deer hunter who now feeds the animals at my kitchen gate. I was a whitewing dove hunter who now grieves the death of a baby redbird. Does this make me less the mucho, macho stud duck image I had painted for myself? I can’t explain it but God can. An old spiritual advisor I had many years ago passed me the key. His name was Jack.

“Get down on your knees beside your bed every night,” Jack said. “Thank God for keeping you sober one more day. Then put your boots under the bed. When you crawl down the next morning to get the boots, ask God for another day of sobriety.”

It works.