Chester Martin Remembers Ann Hoge Kelly And How Her Family Survived WWII

Tuesday, June 28, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Ann Hoge as a teenager
Ann Hoge as a teenager

First, a brief introduction: Ann Hoge Kelly has been well known as an Independent Sales Director with Mary Kay Cosmetics in both Savannah, Ga., and Chattanooga for many years. (She has had one of those famous free Mary Kay cars for 36 years!) Her father, R. Ted Hoge, Sr., died in December, 1948 - at age 48 - while she was still unmarried and in her teens. Her brother, Ted Hoge, Jr., was my best school friend ever, having met in second grade at Anna B. Lacey school in Chattanooga. Her story is one of the greatest I know of to illustrate American Ingenuity and survival. Here it is in her own words.

*      *      *

In 1943 my family moved from Chattanooga to Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee.

I was just 13 years old. They had been looking for several years for a place that would be more safe than that city. "Everyone" knew that "something" was going on in Oak Ridge, but no one really knew what.

The Germans were fighting all over Europe and my parents feared that if the Germans attacked America the area from above Knoxville and following the Tennessee River would be the right area, because bombing all the TVA dams would take out all the electric power for more than half of Tennessee and certainly ruin whatever was going on in Oak Ridge.

They decided on a farm in this (Sequatchie) valley area because "Suck Creek Mountain" would be the barrier from the Tennessee River, and even if the dams were bombed, with the mountain to protect us from flooding, we'd still be safe. (Nickajack Dam did not yet exist – editor’s comment).

Mama had grown up as a farm gal in Tracy City on Monteagle Mountain and knew how to garden and raise chickens, and so the move was made. They found a 40-acre farm with a big house that had been log, but had "siding" over the logs, so it was well insulated. It also had a furnace and a "stoker" to feed coal into the furnace. (We had no clue that the furnace didn't produce enough heat to heat that two-story house, and if it did, the heat would blow the petcock on top of the furnace, and there would be the fear of a fire. We only built up the fire when we were at home, so if the petcock blew we could pour water on the fire to lower the blaze. This was definitely counter productive to having adequate heat.

To stay warm we survived with just the living room fireplace and heat in the kitchen from the oven. It was so cold at night that I slept under 12 quilts - truly, no electric blankets back then! Once in bed I could not turn over. No doubt this developed the habit of always sleeping on my back.

Daddy was an outgoing guy and knew the different restaurants in Chattanooga. And at that time of war meat was rationed even for the restaurants. So the year after we moved he made a contract for us to supply chickens to a "tavern" type restaurant - the Rathskeller Tavern on Cherry Street.

Each year beginning in about April, and every six weeks, Mama would order 50 baby chickens, and by age six weeks they were "broiler" size. It was my job (at age 14) to kill the chickens, toss them into a big 55-gallon can to die, then scald them and pluck off the feathers. Then Mama and a black lady named Cora would slice them in half - breast to back - then pack in three big washtubs full of ice. So every week in the summer little Annie would be killing 50 chickens on a Friday. Even though it was summer and hot we kept a fire going in the little iron stove in the utility room so we'd have scalding water. We also heated water for the washing machine which was the old "ringer" type.

On Saturday morning Daddy would take the back seat out of our car and put the three washtubs full of iced-down chickens in the back seat and the car trunk and haul them across the mountain to the restaurant which paid him 59 cents a pound (live weight). There is no doubt this was a black market business. As I am writing this I'm also wondering "where" he got the ice? We were nine miles away from Jasper.

But since his job was traveling and selling funeral supplies - with the gas rationing he couldn't travel. (His territory had been five states) which he had been traveling in a 1941 Ford Sedan. So very soon he had very little income. He did travel some on trains and buses, but with all the soldiers and their wives also traveling, it was standing room only and very hard on him physically. If you can imagine standing up for four or five hours to get from Chattanooga to Nashville. In thinking back on those years of his traveling, not eating right, and drinking many Coca-Colas a day, plus smoking Chesterfield cigarettes - it is no wonder that he died when he was just 48 years old. I was then 18, and my little brother, Ted, was 15 years old.

After the first year of supplying the chickens, the restaurant asked if we could supply them turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Daddy said, "Sure."

We had 'one' hen turkey, so it soon became my job to watch the turkeys as they wandered around and suddenly disappeared. Then I'd have to locate their nests. Turkeys are not very bright and would often build a nest in a ditch, and when rain came all of the eggs and biddies would wash away.

I'd sit on the front steps pretending to read a book and watch the turkey hen going to her hidden nest. Then I'd go there and with a long steel spoon to retrieve each egg.  I had to use the steel spoon because if I had reached in with my hand, the turkey would smell me and abandon that nest, and find another one and the process of finding the turkey nests begin again.

When we had about 10 turkey eggs, Mama would put them into a hen's nest to hatch. It was important to retrieve the babies each day because chickens had a "disease" that would kill the baby turkeys if the turkey eggs hatched, but didn't affect the eggs.

I then would put the turkey biddies in a box with an electric light bulb over it to keep the biddies warm. And then - as they hatched I had to feed them. Baby turkeys can't see well, and apparently can't smell. Mama turkeys pick up food in their beaks and drop it in front of the babies, so it was my job to crumble up hard-boiled chicken eggs, then sit on the floor and drop that in front of the baby turkey's eyes many times a day. After about two weeks they were old enough and their eyesight developed and could eat mash made of softened grain and later to eat just the grain.

We would raise 25 turkeys for Thanksgiving and 25 for Christmas. However, because of their size I could not kill the turkeys. Daddy got a tree stump and he would tie the turkeys' feet to a clothes line, and I'd hold the turkey's head over the stump. Daddy would chop off their heads, and they'd flop on the clothes line until they died. Turkeys flesh is so tender that if they flopped on the ground, their flesh would be bruised and not good for eating. Then Daddy would help me scald them and together we'd pluck off the feathers. The turkeys weighed at least 26 pounds so there is no way I could have killed one by myself.

As I think back on my teen years I wonder about today. How many teen age girls would be willing to kill and pluck feathers from chickens and turkeys? Of course there was no TV, and our telephone was an eight-party line, so it was no fun attempting to talk to my friends. My nearest girlfriend lived on a farm at the foot of the mountain, and it was two miles to her house.

Therefore, when school was out I had no contact with my school friends. I rode a school bus to Whitwell, Tennessee, for school. It was a rambling route. Only about 10 miles to the school, but the bus came by at 6:30 a.m., then drove all through the ridges picking up kids and arrived at school by 7:45 a.m.

As I am writing this I am remembering the school bus. The body of the bus was made of wood painted yellow-orange and built on the bed of a big lumber truck. The seats were just folding chairs and if the bus lurched, the chairs would collide. Perhaps there were no safety regulations back then.

(I recently drove by where our house "was" and looked at the ditch where the turkeys had a nest. The house is no longer there. Several years after Mama sold it, the house burned. By then I was not living here, and she didn't tell me about the house for several years. Memories!!!)

------- Here ends the story of a teen gal living in Tennessee in the 1940's.

* * *

Ann Hoge's family was pure "Sequatchie Valley" and it is through this family that I was introduced to it, and was forever captivated by it. If I live, you will hear more about the good Hoge and Kelly families. As for the present moment let us say that they have been very successful and even entrepreneurial. Ann and son, Mark Kelly, share a beautiful home in the heart of the Valley. Mark is Manager of PR and Communications for Lodge Manufacturing Company at South Pittsburg, Tennessee. “Ann Hoge Florist” at Jasper was the very first flower shop in the entire valley, and represents Ann’s first success in business, dating back to about 1950.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )


Ann’s mom, Lillie Hoge, on the Hoge family chicken and turkey farm
Ann’s mom, Lillie Hoge, on the Hoge family chicken and turkey farm

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