By SHERRY LUCAS • Photography by GREG CAMPBELL
Enjoyed by permanent residents and weekend warriors alike, there is a special community at Moon Lake that feels like family—and they all agree that summer weekends there are unmatched! Three families share their homes, summer ready and decked out for the 4th of July!
The Mississippi River meandered away and left Moon Lake behind centuries ago. The flow of traffic these days? Definitely toward that peaceful, storied setting. A powerful lure for fun-seekers and fishermen, the crescent-shaped lake has also inspired key Mississippi creatives.
A 1926 Elks Lodge at the lake was sold and became Moon Lake Club in the 1930s, a Prohibition era hub for high living at the time. Moon Lake Casino’s dance floor swirled in the reminisces of Blanche du Bois in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and William Faulkner referenced Moon Lake Hotel in one of his novels. The spot became Uncle Henry’s Place in the 1940s. Country music star Conway Twitty’s parents, Floyd and Velma Jenkins, operated the popular supper club Conway’s on Moon Lake, starting in the early 1960s, where Sam Carr, Frank Frost’s Jelly Roll Kings, and Twitty himself entertained. Now Kathryn’s is a favorite with locals and the lake house set, who’ll boat over from Paradise Point for the pleasure.
Lake houses and second homes dot the shores, and whether the air is filled with the lively chatter of a weekend celebration or the relaxing sounds of life on the water, a breezy ambiance prevails. Moon Lake living is a tonic for the soul.
Ruling the Roast
A decade of 4th of July celebrations has made Pier 332, home of Rhodes and Rhett Shaffett at Moon Lake, synonymous with good food, good times and family fun.
The annual patriotic pig-out at Rhodes and Rhett Shaffett’s Pier 332 at Moon Lake came to a fitting finale in summer 2019. Their Cochon de Lait wrapped a decade of Fourth of July fun with another whole hog to feed the masses and signature watermelon margaritas to slake their thirst.
The party proved irresistible from the start, its invitation arriving as a little box of goodies: Kim’s barbecue pork cracklings, confetti poppers, stars, flags, pigs, and party details with an arty flourish.
The spread hailed Southern summer favorites and the Fourth. Corn salad, brownie s’mores, blueberry muffins, and iced cookies—stars to pigs to a U.S. outline by Virginia Peacock Douglas—brightened the table. A red, white, and blue balloon arch greeted guests, and a patriotic Pier 332 backdrop made a fun pic stop. “July 4th” embroidered on gingham-edged denim napkins scored at a second-hand shop in Helena signaled a celebratory salute.
The Shaffetts’ Cochon de Lait has fed the holiday appetites of hundreds over the years as music from the likes of Marshall Drew, Bruce Brewer, or Haggard Collins filtered from their backyard and guests soaked up holiday fun. “When the kids were college age, half of Ole Miss would be here for the party,” Rhodes says. “It would be crazy!”
As befits a Fourth of July shindig, Cochon de Lait went out with a bang. And while the Shaffetts are taking a break for now, Rhodes doesn’t bar its return as a possible pop-up party down the line. Framed invitations from over the years hold a place of honor at Pier 332, and a metal pig bench, a birthday gift to Rhett from her parents early on, is a lasting reminder of the tradition.
Moon Lake’s pull is generational in her family. “My daddy was out on Moon Lake a lot growing up.” For Louisiana native Rhett, Moon Lake is a reminder of the oxbow lake, False River, near his Baton Rouge hometown.
Rhett designed the screened-in cookhouse out back based on memories of Grand Isle fishing trips, and their kids—daughter Taylor and son Ben—cemented their names in the concrete. That’s where the Cajun microwave—a roasting box perfect for whole hogs—creates its magic to feed the masses. The cookhouse, hub for boiled peanuts, crawfish boils, and fish fries, is the perfect counter to the little kitchen inside, where open aqua cabinets echo the lake’s pretty hues and informal vibe.
A popcorn maker and a hotdog cooker, both commercial grade, serve day-to-day summer snacking needs on the screened-in back porch. “That goes on every weekend—the popcorn’s popping and the hot dogs are cooking. It got to where I was cooking all the time, and I thought, something’s got to give here!” Rhodes says.
They spend as much time as they can at Pier 332, a quick trip from home in Clarksdale, where Rhodes is a court reporter for county and youth court in Coahoma County and Rhett co-owns Mid-South Waste Disposal with his two brothers in-law.
“We just thought it’d be a great place for the kids to grow up and to be out on the water,” says Rhodes. Between the deck boat for water sports and fishing off the pier, that’s spot on; chest drawers inside hold beach towels rolled and ready for action.
Decorative touches suit the scene. Curtains hang from old oars, and antique buoys are slung over bunk bed posts. Re-covered sofas that came with the lake house are still known as “Brady Bunch furniture” in family lingo. The curtains covered windows at Clarksdale First United Methodist’s Fellowship Hall in a former life; Rhodes rescued them when they were tossed in a redo.
“It’s cozy. … Everything comes from the thrift store or an auction,” she says. “It’s just laid-back and fun, and the kids just love it.” Taylor, wed to Bo Armstrong, lives in Clarksdale with their twenty-month-old son, Tripp, and Ben lives in Taylor, Mississippi.
A busy summer retreat, Pier 332 also hosts family Thanksgiving feasts and plenty more parties. “We’re friends with everybody up and down the street,” says Rhodes, cherishing the family-oriented, neighborhood feel of Moon Lake’s Paradise Point side.
The Lakeside cottage of Claire and Dudley Barnes has grown along with their family, becoming the hub for summer fun from fishing to waterskiing to kayaking.
Claire and Dudley Barnes’s little cottage on Moon Lake sits a scant twenty-minute drive from home proper, “So it’s perfect,” Claire says. “You can go for the weekend or, if you just need a break, for one night.” And that makes it just the right fit for Dudley, a financial advisor with Barnes Pettey Financial Advisors in Clarksdale.
“My husband calls it his happy place,” she says. They can hop in the car, grab dinner from the Clarksdale Country Club, and head to the picturesque lake to de-stress with dinner on the boat. “It’s just so relaxing and so soothing and just wonderful. We have great neighbors and great friends out there.”
Grilling, fishing, water skiing, wake surfing, kayaking—all are magnets for Moon Lake fun with generations of family. Their siblings, their children Ryan and Brook, and six grandchildren gather for the Fourth of July with its bicycle parade for kids and boat parade and fireworks for all.
The Barnes’s dive into Moon Lake living was gradual, from boat-parking at their friends’ pier to splitting the little cottage with close friends and adding a screened porch and another bathroom to then eventually becoming sole owners. The arrival of grandkids signaled the need for more sleepover space about four years back, prompting two additional bedrooms, one more bath, and an overall update.
Dudley’s uncle, an architect, helped. “John Barnes, at eighty-six, gets the credit for the design,” Dudley says. “He had done about five napkin drawings over the dinner table for us. He did a go-up, a go-back, a go-sideways,” and more. Included were a front porch where crisp white rockers while away the hours, a new room, and a raised roof for the vaulted ceilings in cypress that bring such a fresh, airy feel to the sunroom and den. Now there’s room for a dozen to sleep over.
A Brookshire’s Ice Cream sign hangs over the bunk beds, an homage to Claire’s grandfather who started that company in 1912. Neutrals in soft gray, breezy beige, and more offer a crisp backdrop for dashes of color and the necessary ease for laid-back lake house living.
“I want my grandchildren to be able to come out here, kick off their shoes, and put their feet up…. Everything is washable and strippable,” from durable canvas upholstery to furniture slipcovers. A tankless water heater, cute tub, new flooring, and vanity turned an eyesore bathroom into a charmer. Blues-music-themed artwork mixes in with family photos, radiating Delta pride and close-knit ties.
A white picket fence winds around the side and back of the cottage for a homey touch and safety measure for smaller grandkids. Gathering spots just outside the sunroom and over the water make the most of the multilevel deck, and Dudley’s lake garden blooms with periwinkle, daylilies, and Knock Out roses. Rosie, Claire’s teacup Pomeranian, loves it just as much as the rest of the gang, boat rides included.
Family History, Weekend Destination
Self-described ‘lake people’, Cherie and Curt Robinson remodeled the small house next-door to his parents creating a perfect get-away.
Cherie and Curt Robinson had their eye on the little Moon Lake getaway from the get-go, nestled as it was right next door to his grandfather’s (now his dad’s) house on the lake.
The Robinsons now live in Nesbit, a convenient spot for her work as a pharmacist with Accredo in Memphis and his with J.R. Simplot (previously Sanders Seed) in Tunica. Moon Lake “is just kind of a retreat for both of us on the weekends,” she says. “It’s relaxing. We enjoy that great porch, we cook out, we sleep in. . . . It’s a great place to get away, summer and winter. In fall, we go watch football; in winter we build a fire. And summer has really been great for the kids (now practically all grown) to still want to hang out with us,” she adds with a laugh.
Curt grew up in Memphis, with Moon Lake a weekend destination to visit grandparents. “That was our draw,” says Cherie, who grew up in Hollandale with Lake Ferguson and Lake Washington as frequent fun spots.
“We just both are lake people.
“We knew we wanted a place at Moon Lake from the moment we started dating,” back in 2007. They’d spend weekends there with Curt’s dad, Yerger “Yogi” Robinson, and stepmom, Regina. Cherie and Curt wed in 2013, bringing her three, Hannah, Andrew and Ben, and his daughter, Mary, into a blended family. They bought and remodeled the little Moon Lake house next door to his folks that same year.
Their total renovation preserved its cottage feel with an update. Last year they added two more bedrooms and an extra bathroom. “Prior to that, it was one giant bedroom—a queen bed and two sets of bunk beds—and it was just like The Waltons,” Cherie says, laughing. “It’s like summer camp, but it’s the lake, and the more, the merrier,” whether that means pulling out air mattresses to accommodate thirteen at a bachelorette party or a crowd for the Fourth of July.
In the small house, “Everything has a purpose,” Cherie says. The little kitchen has concrete countertops, a big copper sink, and the farmhouse table her mom had built to fit. There’s the inviting screened-in back porch—a hangout hub—with its bed swing, party bar, and table with chairs. A folk-art fish anchors the lake fun feel, and the wagon wheel chandelier of colored glass votives, bought by Curt at a fundraising auction, twinkles prettily at night when lit.
“That porch was original to the house, and—back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, that’s all they had. They only ate out on the porch, and that’s kind of how we use it,” Cherie says. A screened-in outdoor cooking shed serves up crawfish boils in spring and gumbo in the fall.
They salvaged materials where they could. The bar top, keeping room mantel, and bathroom mirror frame are made of wood from the original porch. A once exterior paned door is now an inside one in the bar. Cherie loves her little room in back where double glass doors open to the deck. There she curls up on the bench with morning coffee to watch the hummingbirds buzz and the water ripple.
“In the life of our house, we cook and then we’re always outside. The interior of the house is really for sleeping. The rest of the time, we’re all outside and on the water.”
A speedboat and an old pontoon boat they call Bessie are vehicles for summer fun, where the kids gravitate to wake surfing, but Cherie likes sticking to her ski.
“I’ve got to slalom every year, just to prove I can still do it.” When her kids have friends over, they say, “You’ve got to ski and show ‘em!”
The neighborhood is tight-knit. “Every weekend it’s like our Moon Lake family. We’re all so close,” with friends ending up at one house or another, often on spur of the moment on their side of the lake.
And the Fourth of July? That, Cherie says, “is the best weekend of the world over there.”
Cochon de Lait at the Shaffett’s
A party like no other—10 years of pig roasting and celebrating friends, family, and freedom at Pier 332!
RHETT’S PIG RUB
17 ounces Tony’s Original Creole Seasoning
11 ounces garlic salt
32 ounce bottle Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 jar Tony’s Injectable Creole Butter
Add 2 tablespoons of the hot sauce plus 2 tablespoons of both dry seasonings to the injectable Creole butter. Stir and inject pig. Rub outside of pig with remaining hot sauce. In a separate bowl, mix remaining Creole seasoning and salt together use this mixture to coat the pig inside and out.
RHODES’S CORN SALAD
3 cans petite kernel corn
2 cans shoe peg corn
1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
4 chopped green onions
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Italian dressing
salt and pepper to taste
Drain corn and mix together in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, adjusting seasoning to taste. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1½ cups crushed graham crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
8 tablespoons butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (chopped)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cups white sugar
1½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup flour
4 cups large marshmallows
Preheat over to 325 degrees. Line an 8×8 square pan with foil that hangs over edges.
Lightly butter the foil with a small amount of the melted butter. In a separate bowl, stir melted butter with graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt. Press firmly into bottom of the pan. Bake about 20 minutes.
For brownies, melt butter and chocolate in microwave long enough to soften. Then continue to heat and stir until melted. Mix the sugars, vanilla, salt, into the melted chocolate. Add eggs and beat well until batter is thick and glossy. Add flour and stir until in-corporated. Pour batter into pan and bake till top is crispy and toothpick inserted is mostly clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Top with marshmallows and carefully broil till golden. Allow to cool. Lift brownies out of pan by the foil onto a flat surface, cut into squares, and serve!