Dominick's Camp

Dominick's camp



Located a stone's throw from the Cedar Lodge, Dominick Rufa's hunting camp is well known for hosting Dominick's famous saturday afternoon poker games. Rain or shine, summer or winter, hunting season or not, there's usually a card game going on at Dominick's camp, even without Dominick. The above photo was taken just after a poker game that luckily proved lucrative for me. It was also a stroke of luck that during my brief visit to Dominick's camp I was able to shoot six legends of the northern Adirondack foothills in one shot (with my camera).

These guys have spent their lives hunting, fishing, trapping (and drinking) up in the Parishville big woods, and the stories they have related over the years would provide a folklorist a fulltime job. By my own reckoning most of the stories are true, but even Norville's specialty, fish stories, and not the kind about actual fish, would fill a couple of large volumes. They have taken enough deer through the years to fill a Walmart warehouse. Though they are a bit slower in the gait and a tad fuzzier in the eye, Dominick's fridge is still always well stocked with venison. Just make sure if he offers you some venison stew that you ask him what's in it—deer is not the only wild game these guys hunt. If you see a fresh bear carcass or a beaver pelt lying around, that should clue you in.  Be extra careful if Nicky is cooking; if he knew how to skin a skunk, he would--and cook it without telling you.

Except Dominick, who is a retired businessman, if ever there was a testament to the benefits of working for a union it's the working careers of this crew.  With about 150 combined years of union labor accrued, they have all made a very prosperous living, and now enjoy the fruits of their labor with generous retirement benefits the unions have bestowed to them.  I remember once playing cards at Dominick's camp with one of the biggest union men around, Ernie Labaff, head of the Aluminum, Brick & Glass Worker's International Union.

Leftmost in the photo from Massena, NY, is Nicky Rufa, Dominick's kid brother. Nicky came over from Italy in the mid fifties, a bit earlier than Dominick, to stake out his fortune in America. His English is a bit broken, but make no mistake, he knows exactly what you're saying. Nicky is a retired union construction carpenter.

Next to Nicky is the illustrious Norville Bennett.  One could hardly do Norville justice in a single paragraph, but let's say he's one colorful character. Besides many other things Norville is an avid sportsman and cook, and I must say he has quite a taste for the fast life. He is known for his heavy appetite for drink, and his high-rolling gambling ventures. Like the famed Ham Ferry, few haven't heard of ol' Norville. He is retired from Alcoa Metals.

To Norville's left is the suave and fast-talking Jimmy Ryan, alias "Hiya." Jimmy could charm a jar of honey from a bear. His good looks and silver tongue earn him a reputation as a lady's man. But he's much more than that: he's one of the best friends one could ever have. Jimmy spends his winters in Marco Island, FL, and has retired after thirty years with General Motors Corp.

On Jimmy's left is my uncle, Dougie Keegan, aka "Eddie." Dougie, with his classic Irish mug, could be the poster child in a Irish Pub travel broshure. Not a teetotaler, Dougie, true to his Irish blood, likes to imbibe a little now and again, with emphasis on "again." He's well known as being a little "tight" in the wallet department, but you won't hear that from me—no one's been more generous to me than Dougie—that's why he's my favorite uncle (and only uncle). Like Jack Benny, he likes to give the impression that he's cheap, when he really isn't. In regards to me, Dougie just looks on the bright side, observing that "the son-of-a-bitch could have been born a twin!"  Like Jimmy, Uncle Doug put thirty years in at General Motors.

Next to Dougie in the white is Bucky Patterson, a nicer* guy you could never meet. Bucky is the oldest guy in the photo, but let me tell you that doesn't make him the least virile.  All you have to do is ask his girlfriend. The asterisk next to the word "nicer" means that that word doesn't neccessarily apply when he is losing at cards. Bucky has worked as a self-employed carpenter and as a union construction superintendent in Mississippi and other areas in the deep south.

Lastly we come to Dominick Rufa himself. There's no mistaking Dominick in the picture—he's the one with the "ample" gut. That comes from eating his wife Angie's good cooking. Dominick has always regarded his camp as his retreat away from home. In all the years he has owned his camp, Angie never knew its exact whereabouts. One day Angie coaxed a friend into taking her to his camp. When Angie suddenly appeared on Dominick's front stoop out of the blue, poor Dominick almost had a coronary. He never quite felt the same about his getaway since. Dominick was the proprietor of  "Rufa's Restaurant" in Winthrop for many years. He finally sold his restaurant and bar and retired. I can recall many good times I've had at that bar, and I can recall many good times I can't recall.

So goes the story Nicky, Norville, Jimmy, Dougie, Bucky, and Dominick, six North Country legends who in their infinite wisdom remind us that life, no matter where you live it, is to be cherished, and lived fully, with a cold beer in your hand, day by day.

Update:   Dominick's camp was moved to make way for a new vacation home. The old camp was moved to a better place higher up in the sky, where I imagine Uncle Doug, Bucky, and Dominick are lazing around the camp, playing cards and drinking beer. No doubt Dominick is wondering how long it will be before Angie discovers the secret location of his new retreat.


North Country