I left the library and drove to the building I THOUGHT might the Old Dutch Church, remembering having been stopped at a traffic light and reading the beautiful inscription way up high on the outside wall – how it was built, then refurbished and then the inside re-done a number of times…..I parked on a side street and approached the imposing, black painted, wrought iron fence. I walked to one corner and saw no way to get in, walked back to the main street and found the gate that was latched, but not locked.

In I went to view the ancient, upright stones with the flowery writing. Many looked to be kind of new, made from brick-like material, all with the exact same style of writing and all with 1700’s dates. ALL these names were becoming familiar now,  both from my research and from the many streets named after these folks all over. There were Tellers and Brinkerhoffs, Van Wycks and Schenks…

Somehow I was expecting to see an entire BRETT section, a large monument to her, but of course what stone there would be for her would be inside as she is buried beneath the pulpit. I studied two of what appeared to be the oldest stones. The writing was SO worn that they were VERY difficult to read, but I did see the name BRETT. It was almost as though I had to look away to be able to READ the lettering. If I looked directly at it too hard, it was just irregularities in the stone. I’m sure I saw the name ROBERT. Could this be her son? I just couldn’t read the dates. But there was a smaller stone next to this one and except for the SHAPE of the name BRETT, there was nothing more I could read, although I did see the letter R. Could THIS be Rivery’s headstone? I stand up from where I have been squatting before the stone to a pleasant older lady’s voice asking,

“Are you here for the Memorial Service?”

Over the next half-hour or so, I will come to know that THIS woman wishes her name was Francesca again. It is on her birth certificate, but her parents changed it to Frances when they came to this country…..that she is legally blind, she was GOING to take a nap, but sure thought the memorial service was at 2:30. I realize I have no EARTHLY idea what time it is, the only clock I have is in my car. I explain that I am doing research on Madam Brett because I really want to PLAY her at the Homestead, and ‘Francesca’ asks if it will be in the PAPER. I smile. Sure, it will be in the paper. We talk about all KINDS of things: children and living spaces and how she used to live in the city and how she’s widowed 12 years and how she took all her husband’s BEAUTIFUL clothes (he was SOME dresser!) to the Graymoor Thrift shop and how she expects to see some homeless guy on a bus in her husband’s cashmere coat. Eventually, I walk her across the street, and cars stop because this younger woman is helping this older lady across the street. I leave her and go back to my car, but before we part she says it wasn’t so bad to miss her nap and the memorial service because she met this really nice lady….(so did I)

I drive ‘home’ to this odd little basement apartment I live in these days, excitedly tell Kim what I’ve discovered about Madam Brett today and head off to the RiverFront park. I need an audience with this River who birthed her child and took her husband.

MY bench is being occupied by one of the intrepid fishermen, who either catch nothing or throw back everything they DO catch. But I see the bench at the END if free. This is even better. NowIi am not facing the cove, but the River itself. I was here just about a week ago, before I even knew that Madam Breett existed. I sat for hours, writing a letter to my daughter and watching the wind write things on the water. In that writing, I reminded myself to ask my friend Jim, who was in the Navy and is always making references to boats and sailors and fishing and all KINDS of ocean-y stuff to TEACH me how to READ the water.

Now I was here, begging the same River to TELL me. Tell me the story of the River Child, this Rivery who was born on the water with the Mighty Hudson as midwife…..I watch the River and write in longhand:


“The River’s noisier over here, and higher today. Those rocks the boys were flying kites from are nearly submerged – but that’s where the River is making noise

Did she KNOW she was in labor when she got on that sloop? Or was her body rocking with the rhythm of the waves until the pain hit. Was she terrified? Was there any other woman on board to help? Or was it just like the signatures on the deed — only Catharyna among all those men. There is something primal about being on the water. Was the River her midwife, urging her on, holding her it its strong, flowing arms? Did the seagulls echo her cries or go silent from the strange and frightening and powerful sound of a woman giving birth. Did she decide when first she held him that his name would be Rivery?

How am I EVER going to know? How am I ever going to be able to reach back nearly 300 years?

If I sit hear long enough will the River EVER tell me? The whispering, whispering, whispering it does on the rocks….will that EVER become words?


A storm on the River would take her husband. did the sun on the water birth  her son? What time of year. What year? And what would take this child from her?

My hunger to KNOW will never be as vast as it is right now. I have a handful of dates – names in the cemetery are now familiar – Van Wycks and Brinckerhoffs, all those folks she later INVITED to come settle on her land. How HER mill helped take the edge off the hardship of colonial life. How she CHOSE to leave NYCity for the wilderness of her father’s land.

That may all be documented, but what was she FEELING? – that day on that boat. We’ll never know. Did she keep journals? Did she tell stories and were those stories remembered and re-told?

And when her Rivery was born, he was rocked first by the River, by the sloop – carried home by the wind. What a wonder. Did she look out over the water when it was over and thank the water for midwifing her son? Did she always look at him as the River’s Child? Same River that would take his father. How must Rivery have felt when he heard the news of his father’s drowning.

As I sit here with my back to the wind, I feel tears well up from very deep inside and I feel her remember: “I will never forget how the River rocked us both, my Rivery and me. He hardly knew he was in the world with the sound of the water and the rocking of the boat. We washed him clean with RiverWater, my beautiful RiverChild.”

I find myself scribbling the word consumption at the top of the page.

And more tears come as I begin to suspect that perhaps by the time she closed her eyes at 77 years old, that she may have outlived all but Francis – buried them all – Roger, Robert, Rivery.

Only Francis, her eldest, was left to bury her.

Will she tell me what it was to live in this world of men? How did she come to be raised in a way that she ever thought she could DO that – conduct her business, but with a woman’s heart.

I have no sense of her – was she tall, or heavy – how did she wear her hair. Right now I see her as looking exactly like me, but that may well change as I learn more. Three boys – did they have servants, even slaves?

Did she raise those boys with a deeper respect for women than most men had in those years? Did she have suitors? Or did the men FEAR this independent woman.

The RiverWind is getting cold, the sun is lower in the sky, I’m getting chilled which isn’t good and I need dinner………………………..