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
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
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
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
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
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.