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This chapter is about my little brother Dennis da Cruz, who died in
1979 at age 29. It's just one part of a larger
document addressed to my own children. Key:
Dad = my father, Francis da Cruz Sr.,
first son of Daniel da Cruz.
Mom = muy mother, Vivian da Cruz.
Frank Rider = Mom's partner for 30 years until her death in 2002.
Peter = my first child, son Peter, born 1977.
Amy = my second, born 1980.
Judy, Mommy = Judy Scott (my ex-wife).
Granma, Granpa = Judy's parents.
Christine, Lori = Judy's sisters.
Mama Lori and Floyd = Judy's grandmother and her second husband.
Skaerk = My Mom's Norwegian word for bread crust.
—Frank da Cruz <email@example.com
Most recent update:
5 August 2022 20:43:56
My Brother Dennis
[SEE IN FAMILY TREE
|Dennis and me
|Dennis and me
My brother Dennis was born in Washington DC on April 10, 1949, so I was
4½ years older. I remember one day when my Mom was pregnant and she
took took me downtown (i.e. into DC) for some reason, which would have
involved walking about 1/2 mile to the bus (I don't recall any other time
she did this and I don't remember what the purpose of the trip was) but
I do remember being on some cold and windy street corner in DC where she was
telling me that a baby was coming.
|Me and Dennis 1957
|Dennis and friends 1957
|Me and Dennis 1954
When they brought Dennis home he slept in a dresser drawer. I started
school that year and he and Mom were at home on weekdays for about 5 years.
There were no other kids his age in area; I don't think he had any friends.
When we moved to Arlington in 1956 he was 7 and made some friends in the
neighborhood including Dee-Dee Faron (behind him in the middle picture) and
Maria Carrera, Ludwig's little sister, and he was in the Cub Scouts and had
some friends there too.
Three years later we moved to Germany and he was still in elementary school,
coincidentally in the same class with a guy I came to know 60 years later,
the one who sent me all the
Berlin in 1961-62. When we lived on Raimundstraße, he made friends with
the kids in that building and he picked up German pretty fast from them as
well as in school.
|Dennis about 1970
When we came back to Arlington he went to Williamsburg Jr High School, where
I had gone some years before. I should mention that it was only in that
school year, 1961-62, that Dennis and I stopped bickering and became close.
My dad had bought him an old upright piano, and we would play music together
in the basement all the time. He liked West Side Story (which is pretty
complex, whatever else you think of it) and we could do the entire
repertoire. Also around that time he started to play Chopin completely by
ear. I was in a rock band, and one of the other members could play a kind
barrelhouse boogie-woogie New-Orleans style like Fats Domino or Allen
Toussaint — a white high-school junior, I have no idea where he picked
that up — and would come over and use the piano sometimes, which
fascinated Dennis. Anyway by September I was off to UVA so I only saw
Dennis a few more times before I left for Basic Training, and that was when
Mom took him to California, so I didn't see him for 13 years although we
stayed in touch the old fashioned way — letters, envelopes, stamps.
|Recital program 1967
|At the piano 1967
Dennis went to high school in Long Beach, where he organized an antiwar
strike. He was expelled and never went back or got a diploma, or so I
always believed. He turned out to be a blazing piano prodigy and could have
become a top classical pianist. He favored the romantics: Liszt, Chopin,
Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikowsky, but could also play Bach and Scarlatti,
and much else besides; see the program
His funeral eulogy says he "took a year off from high school simply to
practice the piano" and that eventually he graduated from Long Beach
Polytechnical High School, but the recital program says he was going to
receive a high school diploma from the National Guild of Pianists. My
impression from spending time with him in the 1970s was that he never got a
diploma. There's nobody to ask now.
He had started out, to his everlasting mortification, on the accordion
); dad got him lessons in
Germany when he was in elementary school. But in California Mom recognized
his talent and got him a top piano teacher, Joanna Hodges, under whom he got
about as good as anybody can get, until finally after years of recitals, he
was scheduled to make his professional debut at the Hollywood Bowl in front
of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra performing Tchaichowsky's Piano
Concerto Number 1; posters were up all over the city, programs printed,
But a panic attack made him cancel the engagement at the last minute. After
that he worked odd jobs (piano tuning, remodeling houses, in a funeral home,
etc), or just living from the "kindness of others" until he died. Anyway,
one night he took Judy and me to a church — he had the keys to it
— that had a huge pipe organ, like in a cathedral; he fired up a head
of steam and then played Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D minor for us, from
memory, barefoot. Flying fingers and toes... Yikes! When he had visited
me in NY in 1966 I took him to St. John the Divine to see if they'd let him
play the organ but they just laughed... the waiting list was a year long.
So instead we went downtown to the Steinway showroom and he played a big
Steinway grand for an hour, attracting quite a crowd.
I never knew Dennis was gay until after I was in the Army; my dad wrote to
me, like it was the worst thing that could ever happen. But I think dad had
something to do with it. Once we moved to Arlington and Dennis and I had
separate bedrooms, dad would go into Dennis's room every night to "put him
to bed", which involved prolonged sessions of tickling in the bed. I never
actually watched them, but I couldn't help hearing them and it drove me
nuts. This went on for years and years. At the time I didn't understand
what bothered me so much about it, it was just creepy, it made me want to
get the heck out of that house. One night when dad was totally drunk, he
got in my my bed with me, which creeped me out beyond words but he didn't do
anything, he just passed out and snored all night.
I found some letters from 1966 where Dennis was worrying about being
drafted. He opposed the Vietnam war and wanted to know about going to Canada.
I got advice about that from the War Resisters League and sent it to him (at
the time the WRL had no confidence in the Canadian government, but in fact
it did harbor US draft resisters until President Carter pardoned them in
1977). In any case he avoided the draft somehow.
|Harpo Marx hair
In 1976 (before Peter and Amy were born) Judy and I went to see my Mom and
Dennis and Frank Rider in Long Beach, CA. Judy and Dennis really hit it
off. Shortly after that Dennis came out to stay with us for a week or so
and he met everybody, Granma, Granpa, Christine, and Lori, Mama Lori and
Floyd. Floyd took 8mm movies of all this but I never found out what
happened to Floyd's movies after he and Mama Lori split up. He took
millions of movies of the whole family, all the aunts and uncles and nieces
and nephews and cousins. I think Floyd is dead.
In 1978 Dennis (who was in very good shape, he ran and worked out all the
time, had a body like in the magazines) started to feel bad, his stomach
was sticking out. He thought it was constipation or gas or something but it
didn't go away and it was growing, and felt hard. Finally he went to the
doctor. They opened him up and found his whole thorax was one big cancer and
there was nothing they could do, every organ was involved; they just sewed
him back up.
|Uncle Dennis and Peter 1978
Mommy and I and 4-month-old Peter flew out from New York as soon as my Mom
called with the news. By the time we got there, the oncologist had seen him
and was optimistic and put him on all kinds of chemo. We stayed with him
through this for a week or two, Dennis was a good sport about it and had all
these cravings, would only eat things that were white, like cottage cheese
and yogurt and white bread (with no skaerks). Finally the doctor said the
cancer was all gone and everybody celebrated, and Mommy and I and Peter went
|Dennis celebration 1978
Actually the celebration was kind of a disaster. Dennis's friend Bob took
Mommy and me to this big gorgeous expensive Mexican restaurant and we
stuffed ourselves. When we got back to Mom and Frank's house, Mom had
cooked us a gigantic special dinner, she spent hours on it, and we couldn't
even take one bite.
|Judy and me at Dennis's house
While we were there we met all of Dennis's friends. Dennis lived with his
friend Bob in a quaint little cottage that was decorated to look like
something from Elizabethan times, tapestries and all, that Dennis made
himself (see picture, in which the dark recorder on the red table by the
duck had belonged to my grandfather; I guess Bob still has it... Note
famous photo of Dennis and me
on the mantle).
The cottage was a guesthouse in the backyard of a larger house (mansion),
and the rent was affordable. Bob was a paramedic, one of the very few
people other than my Mom I met in southern California who had a regular
|At Dennis and Bob's cottage
|Bob and Judy in 1978...
Six months later Dennis was dead at 29; the cancer came back but he refused
treatment. Nobody knows how the cancer happened, but it could have been an
early form of AIDS, or maybe from the embalming chemicals at his
funeral-home job or the massive amounts of drugs he took (Quaaludes, LSD...)
While on his deathbed he was baptised by his longtime friend Father
Shemanski — a Catholic priest (I met him a few times) — but then
joined the local Lutheran Church, either to please Mom or because of
the huge pipe organ he liked so much.