Uncle Henry’s at Moon Lake is a fine place to mark a literary anniversary. Tucked between Yazoo Pass and the Mississippi River just north of Clarksdale, Moon Lake itself is an oxbow, good for fishing if not for navigation and commerce. Across the road from the lake, Uncle Henry’s awaits its guests with a spacious gallery, a west-facing view perfect for sunset-watching and no scheduled activities. On the other hand, there’s all the time in the world for sitting and thinking, two activities particularly dear to writers. While robins stitch their song through dogwood and azaleas and morning blooms more yellow than the iris, I’ve been sitting with all my might, and doing some thinking, too - about the nature of persistence, and how quickly a year can flee down the corridors of time.
Uncle Henry isn’t my uncle, of course, but the fellow whose name was given to a traditional Mississippi establishment. Uncle Henry’s started life as an Elks’ Lodge in 1926. Sold in 1933 to William Wilkerson, it became known as the Moon Lake Club, a Prohibition landmark known for good food, high living and assorted illegalities. It lost and then re-gained respectability when the locals cut its connections to the Chicago mob. Finally, in 1946 it was purchased by Henry Trevino, the foster father of Sarah Wright. Sarah and her son George now run Uncle Henry’s, an Inn and Restaurant by its sign, a Bed & Breakfast in the tourist guides. It’s a little shabby, quite a bit quirky, imbued with fading elegance and filled with piles of indiscriminate memories. You don’t have to have been raised in the South to recognize that Uncle Henry’s actually is a “she” - the prototypical genteel Southern Lady who’s just a little down on her luck.
On the other hand, Uncle Henry’s is a treasured part of local lore and legend - not to mention local life. On Friday and Saturday nights, there are “regulars” in the restaurant, the kind of folks waitresses ask, “Will you be having the usual?” even while knowing the answer to their own question. When I mentioned Moon Lake to some fishermen eating breakfast in the Cleveland, Mississippi Huddle House, their first question was, “Did you stop by Uncle Henry’s?” When I said I’d been staying there, one of the men said, “Well, it’s not the Holiday Inn, that’s for sure. But that’s the good news – it’s not the Holiday Inn.”
It certainly isn’t the Holiday Inn. George himself told me that when I made my sight-unseen reservation. A late and impulsive decision to attend Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival had left me scrambling for a room. Motels were booked, and had been for weeks. When I called the Shack Up Inn (perfectly respectable lodging, by the way), they were full, too. But with the solicitous kindness I’d already come to associate with Mississippians, the proprietor said, “You better call up at Uncle Henry’s. I do believe I heard they had a cancellation and they might be able to put you up. Of course, they might not, but you call George. He’ll tell you how things are.” (more…)