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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 <fdc@columbia.edu>
Most recent update: 5 August 2022 20:43:56

My Brother Dennis


Dennis about 1951
Dennis 1951
Dennis about 1955
Dennis 1955
Dennis and me
Dennis and me
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
Me and Dennis 1957
Dennis and friends 1957
Dennis and friends 1957
Me and Dennis 1954
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 pictures of Berlin in 1961-62. When we lived on Raimundstra├če, he made friends with the kids in that building and he picked up German pretty fast from them as well as in school.

Dennis 1963
Dennis 1963
Dennis about 1970
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.

Dennis recital program 1967
Recital program 1967
Dennis at the piano
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 (see photo); 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, etc.

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.

Dennis 1976
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.

Dennis in hospital 1978
Dennis 1978
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.

Dennis and Peter 1978
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 home.

Dennis celebration 1978
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
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 full-time job.

Bob and Judy 1978
At Dennis and Bob's cottage
Bob and Judy 1978
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.

Most recent update: 5 August 2022 20:43:56