For a Chinese family who came to America and then Mississippi during the mid 20th century, the old Fong Brothers Grocery, now an apparel store, is a storehouse of memories.
The Quon family, along with the Moy family, formed Fong Brothers Grocery on the historic town square in Hernando at a time when the town’s population was not much more than 1,500 people.
In the fall of 1953, during Fong Brothers’ heyday, “fat hens” cost 49 cents a pound. “Bacon bellies” cost 35 cents a pound and a pound of “Cup-O-Joy” coffee costs 69 cents.
Dr. Daniel Quon, a noted oral surgeon in my native Jackson, Mississippi, recently shared his memories and reflections of those days with the Time Traveler.
Quon recalls growing up in the sleepy North Mississippi town where people knew everyone by their first name and never locked their doors at night.
Strangers were welcomed like old friends and embraced with open arms.
“There were a lot of people who lived in Hernando who still remember my family,” said Quon from his Jackson clinic.
In fact, the Quon family still owns the home where the family once resided at 2282 Northern Street in Hernando. Every now and then, family members still drive past the old grocery store, which was located in the same red brick building that now houses SoCo Apparel.
“We still come up there and stay over if we come up for an Ole Miss game,” said Quon, 67, one of five children born to Henry and Maizie Quon, immigrants to Hernando from their native China. “We owned two little shotgun houses right together and we jokingly used to refer to those as being the Chinatown of Hernando.”
“The reason it was called Fong Brothers is that my uncle, George Fong, had a grocery store in Como,” said Quon. “He knew a guy named Joe Moy who convinced him and my dad to come over from China and open a store in Hernando.”
Dr. Quon said his father Henry served his new adopted country during World War II when he was stationed in India.
“I was one of five kids who lived there and the Moys had five kids,” Quon said. “We grew up in the grocery store.”
Dr. Quon said when he was a senior in high school, about 1969, his family sold their interest in Fong Brothers Grocery to the Moy family. The Moy family would later sell their store some years later, sometime between the late 1970s and early 80s.
“I was 11-years old when I started working at Fong Brothers,” said Dr. Henry Wadsworth, a longtime Hernando resident. “I worked at Fong Brothers from the time I was in the seventh grade until I finished high school. I was a sacker and became a cashier before I left. What I remember most is their cooking — the best real Chinese cooking you ever ate. I worked from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. They cooked supper for you.”
Wadsworth said he still has enormous respect for both Mr. Foy and Mr. Quon, along with their families.
“Henry Quon and Joe Moy both fought for America,” Wadsworth said, adding the family began attending the Hernando Methodist Church where the Wadsworth family also worshipped. “They were good people.”
Harvey Ferguson, another longtime resident, also has fond memories of Fong Brothers Grocery and its owners and employees.
“Miss Maizie spoke broken English,” Ferguson said. “She would come in the bank and say, “What you do for me today? She was a sweet lady.”
Ferguson marveled at the fact the couple assimilated so quickly into the fabric of life in a small Southern town.
“Miss Maizie and Mr. Henry were both born in China,” Ferguson said. “They were both fine people. Fong Brothers was ‘the’ grocery store in Hernando, although you had two others, White’s Grocery and J&P Grocery. When you went into Fong Brothers, they had everything you can imagine in a grocery store. The Quons and their children were real good friends to our family. Eileen, their daughter, was the valedictorian of our class. Eileen went on to work at FedEx. Their older daughter Pauline lived in Houston and worked in the energy industry. Daniel is a noted oral surgeon and is a devoted Ole Miss fan. Another son Henry also lived in Houston and Wayne Quon lived in Maryland. All of them were smart as everything.”
Wadsworth’s father, also a physician, delivered the Quon children.
For Wadsworth and Ferguson, it mattered not that these friendly folks who sold eggs and cheese and milk to townspeople hailed from a faraway land or spoke in another dialect or accent.
They belonged to the people of Hernando. They were and are “one of us.”
ROBERT LEE LONG is the Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.