1/3 square mile
Ramblersville //Neighborhood // Southwestern Queens
Catherine M. Doxsey has spent most of her 93 years in Ramblersville, a 19th century fishing enclave turned 20th century summer home community turned today’s smallest neighborhood in NYC. The great-grandmother has weathered all sorts of storms including battling City Hall for sewage lines, defending Ramblersville’s reputation against detractors, and most recently, fighting for her home after Hurricane Sandy decimated it.
“Gee whiz, I remember being very young. I'm talking about three years old. My grandmother lived here. I remember my father with the oysters, lobsters and soft-shelled crabs. They caught them here.
I couldn't get over the boardwalk. It was like music to my ears the sound of it. The air, the salt air, my God. Those beautiful shells you hold up to your ear and you hear the ocean pounding. Wow, what a place. It knocked my socks off.
I was married April 12th, 1942. The war was on. He was 21 and I was 18. He was the handsomest thing I ever saw. He knew it though. He went to World War II straight away. By September I found out I was having a baby. I went to the doctor three times. I said, ‘Something is wrong with me.’ He said, ‘Are you married?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘All right, let's see.’ He says, ‘You're having a baby.’ I said, ‘That's impossible.’ He said, ‘What do you mean it's impossible?’ I said, ‘I couldn't be having a baby.’ He said, ‘Yes, you're having a baby.’ He says, ‘Listen, you're a very nervous girl. On the way home stop at the candy store.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Get a pack of Camels. I want you to start smoking because you're very nervous.’ Honest to God. I did. I got a pack of Camels. I went home and tried to smoke. It made me so sick I threw them out. So much for the cigarettes.
I’ve lived in this house since 1954. It was on sale for $7,000 but my husband Wilbur screwed them down to six. I'm on the marsh. On the wetlands. We'd get a full moon and an east wind and the tide would come in the house. I would drain it out, but I loved the place. We had an old rowboat. When the tide came in I rowed the kids over to 99th Street where there was a sidewalk that wasn’t underwater.
It's called Ramblersville because no two houses faced the same way. That they have rotten names for Ramblersville, the people. They call it ‘Down in The Hole.’ There was a guy who called himself the historian of Howard Beach and he would talk about the drunks and the stills and all the rotten things. It's been neglected. It's been let go. It's always been looked down on. That's all right because we're tougher than they are. I used to take my son into the yard and tell him, ‘This is sacred soil in the United States of America.’
The storm had a bad effect on me. I didn’t want to leave. The police were going up and down taking names of those that were staying. I took 49 inches in the house. If I had stayed I would have drowned because I sleep on a chair downstairs. I left here with my dog and cat and a few medicines. I thought I'd be back in two days. The refrigerator was full of food, a chicken and all this. I moved in with my daughter. It was two years before I was back. I agonized over losing so many things that were precious.
I thought to myself, ‘What can I do?’ I thought, ‘I know what I'll do. I'm going to sing every song I know and see if I know all the words.’ That's what I did. I didn't sing out loud because I didn't want to bother anyone. It worked. It got me through it. You can't be singing and thinking about music and be awfulizing your life at the same.
All the furniture floated, everything fell. The entire house had to be gutted, the floors, the walls, the electric, everything. It was a horror show. I came back because I love it here. I have to be by the water, I know that.
The city tried to buy us out but there's all kinds of regulations. I would have to buy another house in the city. I said, ‘What do you think I'm out of my mind?’ I'm not going to buy a place in the city. What for? A lot of people. A lot of cars, a lot of buses. It’s so quiet here. The sky is so beautiful in Ramblersville. Blue, white and the clouds. You don't see that in the city. It's nothing but cement.”
-Catherine M. Doxsey