“Every time I see your face
It reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I’ve got is a photograph
And I realize you’re not coming back anymore…” (1973) Photograph. Recorded by: Ringo Starr Composers: Richard (Ringo) Starkey and George Harrison
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew….When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son.
Forgive me if there’s nothing really valuable to use in what I’m about to write. I just know I have to. I MUST write about it.
Meet Terry Sindle. Terry was a dear friend of mine. We were the same age. He, his younger sister, Joan, and their newly divorced mom, had just moved into the apartment complex where my mom and I lived. It was 1973 and the Sindle family were fresh off the moving van from Staten Island, New York. They had such heavy NY accents that this Texas lad could hardly decipher. But nevertheless, Terry and I had so much in common.
(Terry Sindle in high school, 1977/1978.)
He was a bit from the wild side, and I was far more conservative. He was a casual pot smoker and pill-popper, and I chewed gum. He was into Led Zeppelin, and I was into Manilow. I was a spiritually plugged-in church member, and Terry was agnostic at best. He wore long wavy hair, and my cut looked like a Wall Street lawyer. I was a martial arts student and tournament fighter, while he could care less about any sport. Yet, we both experienced our parents divorcing. We both had poor single moms. We both loved music, and music performance. And we both loved pizza…or so I thought. Being from Staten Island, NY, I figured he liked pizza. So, another friend and I introduced him to what was the best pizza in our neighborhood, Pizza Inn. When the cardboard-thin, scantly-topped crispy crusted pizza came out, Terry looked at it and said in astonishment, “WHAT IS THIS? THIS isn’t pizza!” Here in Texas we thought pizza was pizza. We thought Pizza Inn could do no wrong. Terry had to educate us in what real NY pizza consumers enjoy. It would be two years later before a NY style pizza joint opened up in our suburb, and we’ve never been the same since.
One thing Terry and I didn’t have in common was the guitar. He was an incredible guitarist. I was strictly a vocalist, although dabbled lightly in piano and guitar. His musicianship was keen, to the point where I could call him a “master technician”. Terry’s grade of musicianship was well beyond the average teenage garage band. In two days he learned all of the Beatles music catalog. TWO DAYS! He, at 14 years old had begun to compose original music, as well as arrangements of cover songs. He joined the school band and mastered the French Horn. He was playing for local parties, filling-in with other local bands, and eventually started his own rock band before he was 16.
You could say we looked like a duck and a hawk side-by-side, but we knew we were a team of the same feather. I was in the top choir in high school always urging him to audition. I told him it would help sharpen his vocals, along with sight reading. It didn’t take him long before he realized you can study classical while using what you learn for other genres of music. He sheepishly did audition, and made the choir in 1977. He naturally squirmed terribly so when having to wear a tux for serious choral performances.
Meanwhile, my band was more soft rock and ballads. Naturally when it came time to add a lead guitarist, Terry was my guy. Musically we knew what each other wanted without discussing it fully. We both had terrific ears, as well as, the same quality control standards. With that said, on stage he would hear an extra lick or riff in his mind, then would add it in real time on the fly, often distracting me from my lyrics. (That was a good and bad problem when singing something like, Manilow’s “I Write The Songs”.) Frankly, with Terry as my lead guitarist, I knew whatever came out of the amp speakers was going to be a top-shelf sound.
Not long after high school, I moved out to get my own place across town. Meanwhile, Terry was wanting to move back to NY to further his rock career. We performed a couple of times together during the summer after graduation, but I was pursuing music theater by that time and he was going deeper into metal rock. Before you could say, “Y’all”, he moved back to NY to execute just what he set his sights on. We lost track of each other by 1980.
Later in the 1980’s I heard from Terry a couple of times. It turned out he continued to grow as a spectacular studio artist, and stage act. He had even prepped for a move to England with the idea of joining a band there.
(Terry Sindle with his band in NY during the 1980’s.)
Then…all went silent.
About 10 years ago, I began a search to find my old friend. By that time I was on Facebook which is where I started scrubbing for a friend link. Nothing came up. Internet searches came up empty. It was as if Terry Sindle had vanished from the planet.
Then one day, and I hesitated to do it, I launched a national obituary search. With a deep saddening, while swallowing back the lump in my throat, I found my friend’s obit. Terry died back in 1997 at the age of 37. What’s worse, the obit was short and simple, without surviving family member names, or details about his passing. May God forgive me, I first thought his substance abuse finally caught up with him. My thirst for more info grew almost to the unbearable. All it gave me was the place of his death…Florida. All other searches came up zero. It was highly frustrating. I gave up and the years went by.
A couple of months ago for Throw-Back Thursday, I posted the picture below on Facebook and gave tribute to two members of my band who left us early in life.
(My Alan Brown & Co Band. Later affectionately referred to as my “Come & Go Band”)
In my defense, this shot goes back to Oct of 1977. That’s the excuse for my tablecloth sports jacket and sailor pants. Terry Sindle is seen on the far right in a black shirt with his Gibson guitar, standing in front of his stack of speakers.
Right after the post, a couple of old mutual high school friends contacted me asking if I knew whatever happened to Terry. I told them what I had discovered, but it didn’t seem enough. So, I lit a fire under my chair.
Somehow, someway, through a search, I found Joan Sindle, Terry’s younger sister. I messaged with her right away. Afterwards we spoke on the phone. Pushing back tears, she caught me up on Terry’s short adult life and sudden death. Terry was a victim of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He beat it once in his life only to return years later like an overnight thief. After not feeling well, and unable to shake it, he had a check-up with an Oncologist. Shockingly, after running tests, the doctor gave him less than a week to live. In fact, he died 3 days later.
Terry did well with his music while here. In NY, he made radio airplay with one of his records. Terry’s last album was cut just 3 months before he passed. His bands always did very well in NY, and later in Florida after moving there. He met a Floridian girl while in AA, fell in love, and got married. They eventually were blessed with 3 boys.
While in the cancer ward, both times, he played songs for the other fellow-cancer patients. That didn’t surprise me a bit. He had a huge heart. As for his substance addictions, they did strengthen their grip on his life. He checked himself into rehab while in his 20’s. He was clean for many years, fell off the wagon, and became clean again. At some point, early in his marriage, both Terry and his wife, opened their hearts to God and His redemption offered through Jesus. AA was good for Terry, but Divinity resting within, gave him the power to control the monkey on his back. Remembering those days, Joan said he was excited about his new-found faith.
Recently Joan asked if I would hook-up with Terry’s youngest son, Matthew (now 25), who was only 3 years old when Terry passed. She said because of his young age, he is always wanting to know more about his dad and thought it would be great if an old high school friend could shed light on his dad’s teen years. I was thrilled! I did so. Matthew and I had a few terrific exchanges back and forth over cyberspace. You might find it isn’t surprising to know that Matthew, along with one of his brothers, are musically talented to the hilt. In fact, they can play any instrument they pick up. Matthew also has all of Terry’s guitars and amps, as well as his French Horn from high school.
(Sorry for the flash reflection on this shot. Terry and his boys less than a year before his death.)
A few days ago, Joan called to tell me Matthew was coming here to Dallas for a visit and wanted to know if we could meet. Once again, I was thrilled! I asked 3 other mutual high school friends, who knew Terry, to join us. They were itching to show up.
When Joan first asked me to connect with Matthew, I could hardly describe the feeling. It was so strange. All I can say to paint this canvas with a stroke or two, is I felt a compelling, a strong, very strong tug to reach out to Terry’s son with all that was within me. As each day rolled on I had this gnawing, this obsession propelling me with the thought that somehow I was doing this for Terry himself, as if he were here asking me to do this as a favor. Truly, that feeling launched me into an overdrive to find pictures, Terry’s handwriting, and refresh every stand-out memory I could muster. They were going to bring some pictures of Terry, (as you have seen) in his adult years. We agreed to meet at a local pub, The Fox & Hound in north Dallas.
I thought I arrived too early, but as I got out of the car, a voice shouted out, “Alan?” There, just two cars over, it was her, Joan and her nephew, Matthew. Joan and I hugged as if we were siblings removed at birth. When I hugged him, I felt as if I had known him all of his life, as if he were my own son. The others drove up shortly after.
(My phone died while we were together, so Joan took this shot. I’m the Celtic-looking guy sitting on the right with Mathew in the middle and some old high school friends.)
For several hours we spoke, laughed, cried, and ate and drank with Terry on our minds and hearts. The guys poured out all their memories of Terry. No one could recall anything sour to add concerning our younger times together. Matthew and Joan shared more about the life and heart Terry displayed to others in his adult years. He dearly loved his wife and sons. Terry even wrote letters to his boys to help them understand who there dad was, what he consisted of, and how he wished he could be there to see them grow up. After his prognosis, he told Joan how he couldn’t die because he had three sons to raise. That was his concern while preparing to leave this life. He also wrote to his sons of his spiritual awakening, sharing the love he found in God.
Afterward, Joan said she felt as if Terry had been with us around the table in the pub. I told her it’s because she was meeting with his close friends that reflect Terry’s touch on our lives, still expressing it after 4 decades. Of course, I know what she meant. Again, I felt a rushing swift current of an urge to visit with Matthew sharing personally about his dad. His eyes lit up as I described our days together. He laughed at all of our funny stories about Terry. He showed a great deal of pride displaying the family pictures, and describing the instruments he inherited. He spoke of what he knew of his dad’s faith, adding that he too was in a music ministry with a desire to pursue a pastoral outreach.
As I looked at the pictures of Terry as an adult, I was nothing short of mesmerized. It seemed like yesterday we were music-making teens, taking music theory class together, rehearsing quietly in his room, and doing laundry duty. And now, I see the man in the pictures bringing me smiles, seeing he was a success in fatherhood and being a loving, loyal husband. When the time was right, he was man enough to realize he had substance abuse issues and sought help. So many don’t. He showed love, grace and benevolence toward other hurting cancer patients, even while his own life was ebbing away. To me, a hit record seems tiny in comparison.
As we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, as the sun was setting, I looked into his son’s eyes and told him, “We knew your dad very well. I can certainly say, with all confidence, he would be very proud of you, and who you have become. You are an impressive young man, Matthew. And somehow, I just can’t help but believe your dad is being told about our gathering today.” Yes, we all teared-up, and rightly so.
Someone once wrote how we are not islands, living our lives separated, disconnected from others. If the life of Terry Sindle taught us a couple of things, it’s that we are all peninsulas, connected to one another, which aids us in knowing what is most important.
One day I will see Terry again. And when I do, I think he will say something like, “Thank you for helping me tell Matthew who I am.”
A life well lived is available from the vast cistern of fuel for the race.
“For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.” – Apostle Paul, from Romans 14:7 (Berean Study Bible)