For author John Hill, foster care was an answer to a prayer

Stanley O. Williford | 5/18/2011, 5 p.m.

Hill writes: "It was a huge yellow house with big trees in both the front and back yards. There were lots of play areas, a wading pool, a picnic area, and chicken coops full of chickens. The house was surrounded by one or two acres of undeveloped land with many different fruit trees and vines...."

For young people who had grown used to sleeping on mattresses strewn around the dirt floor in one-room shacks, it was hard to conceive of living in a house with four bedrooms with real beds, a living room, a family room, a dining room, a large kitchen, and a breakfast nook.

"We could not believe that we had our own bedrooms that were almost the size of our cabin at the labor camp," Hill writes. "All our lives we had witnessed other people who lived like this and now we were among them."

For the first time in their lives they had regular home-cooked meals, daily warm baths and decent clothes to wear.

"We immediately felt welcomed by Mom and Pop, as they became known to us. Pop was an elderly gentleman who was about sixty-nine years old. He was a minister, and he welcomed us into his home with open arms."

But there was a problem, Hill remembers.

"The discipline thing was very difficult for my brothers and sisters," he said. "Mom and Pop were very strict about going to church, getting an education, not talking back, doing chores, and whippings, something that would not be tolerated today.

"We were kids who had almost raised ourselves," he said. "We had no parental discipline. When we came into a structure, that's where Mom and Pop had a problem--getting us to adjust. Before, when we wanted to do something, we did it. We didn't need permission. Now, if you didn't get permission, the strap came out.

"It took them a while to get us accustomed to that structure. Raymond, my older brother, had a tough time complying, but it wasn't that hard for me. I was 9 going on 10. I really felt that I couldn't follow my older brothers. I had to follow the structure."

A couple of years later, when his mother showed up to reclaim her kids, young Hill refused to go. "My foster mother wanted to raise us to get an education, to be a success. She would take us to museums and libraries to show us what an education would do for us. My parents just wanted us back. My parents wanted to have this other life. My mother would sometimes say of my foster mother, "She doesn't let you have any fun."

The 12-year-old told his mother he could never return to his former life. "Mom had not stopped drinking, cursing, or partying. I demanded that we be left with Mom and Pop." Oddly, his demands worked and his mother instead chose to live nearby and visit them often.

Hill went on to finish high school, where he lettered in basketball and football. After a tour in the Air Force, he earned a bachelor's in business administration from the University of San Francisco and a master's from the University of Phoenix. All but one of his siblings finished high school.