By Robert Little Fox Hill
as told to Jim Uttley 

What fruitcake taught me about unconditional love


Last updated 9/26/2012 at 9:26pm

Photo: Indian Life

Robert Little Fox Hill, seen here with his wife Janice (right), knows what it’s like to be abandoned and go hungry. He also knows what it means to be rescued. “Whenever I eat fruitcake, it reminds me of what Christ did for me when He rescued me.”

My name is Robert Little Fox Hill and I was born in Palao, California, on December 24, 1947. I know that because it’s on my birth certificate.

Three days later we moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. For the next seven years, that’s where we lived.

My biological father was wounded in the Korean War. His whole platoon was thought to be dead. They left the bodies in the field for three days and when they went out to pick up the corpses, they found him still alive.

After that he got hooked on drugs trying to deal with the pain of his injuries so the Army did a nice thing for him—they kicked him out for being a drug addict. While we were on the reservation, the government relocated us. They sent my grandparents to Arizona and my parents to California.

So at the age of seven, we went back to California and this was the start of the worst three years of my life. It wasn’t a very good life at all. I remember some things from that time but most I have blocked out.

One thing I do remember is that I slept on a buffalo rug on a dirt floor.

My parents were what many people think of when they think of Native Americans—alcoholics. For the next three years, they’d abandon us. They’d take us to a park or a theater and leave us there and return well after dark to pick us up. Policemen would come by and ask what we were doing and we’d tell them we were waiting for our parents.

I have an older brother, three sisters, and a baby brother. They’d leave all five of us in the park or take us to a theater when it opened and leave us there. When it closed, we’d sit on the curb and wait for them to come and get us. At other times, they just left us at home with no food and no way to feed ourselves.

I was only seven at the time and my older brother was a bit mentally handicapped so he couldn’t take care of us. I was basically responsible for my siblings.

Sometimes we’d make oatmeal or whatever we could find in the house. Sometimes, we’d just sit and cry. I don’t really remember my parents giving us anything to eat. So we had very little food or anything that was good.

One day my father just decided he was going back to the rez. “You can come with me or you can stay,” he said. Being only eight-and-a-half, I didn’t really understand what was going on. I just knew that it was bad. He left and I didn’t hear from him or see him for 35 years.

My mother didn’t know what to do so she started dating every Tom, Dick, and Harry who came along. She just outright gave my two younger sisters away to a family who later adopted them. That left my little sister, my older and younger brother and myself.

My mother dated a guy who told her, “It’s either me or the kids.” So when I was nine-and-a-half, we went to a foster home. She gave us away. I didn’t see her again until I was 27.

The foster family was white and they had horses so we thought this would be good. Back then they didn’t necessarily do anything to keep Native families together.

We traded one alcoholic family for another. The family I went to live with—the Kellys—would go to the bars on Friday and Saturdays. First Mr. Kelly would go and his wife used to try to find him, visiting all the bars until she’d find him. She’d leave us in the truck while she went in to join her husband. So it was one abandonment for another.

Life for us was pretty bad. When my brother was ten and I was nine, we stole a truck. As kids, we were on our way to becoming juvenile delinquents.

My younger sisters had a change—to live with another family. They kept them for about two weeks and then brought them back. My brother says my sister blew it for them because they were rich people—swimming pool and all kinds of stuff like that but all my sister did was cry because she missed being with the rest of us.

The family said they couldn’t handle that. She came back in December 1957.

Another family wanted to adopt some kids and the agency told them “we have this family but you have to take the three of them.” So they took my younger brother and sister and I and left my older brother at the foster home.

We had a meeting with the family to see if we got along with them or if they even liked us. I remember in December we went into this little town about 30 miles from Sacramento to an Evangelical United Brethren Church. The pastor was supposed to come to unlock the doors and let us in because for some reason we couldn’t go to their house.

We sat out there quite a while and it was cold. We were sitting in our car and they were sitting in their car and we waited there for about two hours. The pastor never showed.

Finally the lady said, “Our house is only a mile and a half down the road. Can’t we go and get out of the cold?”

The adoption agent finally said OK so that’s what we did.

This lady who was to become my mother made fruitcakes and she had made a fresh batch that morning. We hadn’t had very much to eat that morning. My shoulder blade bones stuck out from malnutrition until I was 26 years old!

When we walked into their house, we smelled this incredible smell—it was awesome! It was these fresh-baked fruitcakes. They had fresh cow’s milk for us. I really didn’t know if I could eat it. I had never had anything that smelled that good to eat. I looked over at my younger brother and sister and they were eating it so I thought, “I can eat this!”

I ate that fruitcake and it was the best tasting thing I had ever had in my life! I ended up eating the whole cake.

The lady told us that day—“Come and be my son, come and be my daughter and I will love you.”

I had never had anyone tell me that before. That’s the same thing the Creator says. “Come just as you are and I will love you.”

We were adopted into their home just before Christmas. They showed us what the love of God was all about. They didn’t just teach us, they showed by their actions that they loved us.

My brother and I had done some bad things and if we had continued, we’d either been in prison or dead. And when they showed me what the love of God was all about, I had to say, “I need that. I need Jesus in my life.”

So on New Year’s Eve we had a Watch Night service in 1958. I got down on my knees and I asked Jesus into my life. I didn’t know what that all meant at that time but I learned over the years what it means to be Jesus’ son.

I joined the Navy in 1968 because I had gotten draft papers and I was back in university. I didn’t want to go into the Army because I only weighed 100 pounds and I’m about five foot four. They had guys known as ‘Tunnel Rats’ in Vietnam. I knew very well that if I was drafted and ended up in Nam, that’s what I’d be doing because I was just the right size for that. It was a very dangerous job helping the U.S. military obtain information often found in these underground tunnels in Vietnam.

So I decided I didn’t want to go there and joined the Navy instead.

I scored a 97 on their test and they told me I could be whatever I wanted. I said I didn’t want to go to war so why don’t I become a medic.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Navy Corpsmen are the ones who serve as medics in the U.S. Marines. Chaplains in the Marines are also Navy men and women. I don’t know if that’s the way it is today but that’s what it was then.

I got through medical training and was sent to Portsmouth, Virginia naval hospital and from there I was sent to Guam in the South Pacific. They would send injured soldiers from Vietnam to either Japan or Guam. I spent time working with patients who came directly from Vietnam. That was as close to Vietnam as I wanted to get.

I had an accident when I was in the Navy and hurt my knee. I had actually fallen out of a coconut tree!

After I recovered from serious surgery, the doctor okayed me to go back to active duty. He told me “there are two things you don’t have to worry about. You won’t be going on a ship and they won’t be sending you to Vietnam.”

I got my ‘drop card’ that gave me my orders. I was being sent on the USS Sanctuary to Vietnam. I reminded the doctor what he had told me but he said there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

When I joined the Navy, I joined with a good friend and we went through boot camp and med training together. He got stationed on the West Coast and I was on the East Coast.

I didn’t see him for a long time.

One day I was in port and there were some Koreans doing a karate demonstration. All of a sudden someone put their hands around my neck. I turned to find my friend who I hadn’t seen since training. He was out in Nam in a Marine unit. We agreed we needed to stay in touch so when we got out we could go out and party and have a good time together.

A couple days later, I was doing one of my jobs which were to go through the body bags and identify the corpses brought in. I opened one bag and there was my friend I had just seen! I wept for my friend and I still tear up when I think of that day.

We all go through trials and there are times when we say, “God, where are You? What are You doing? What is my life?”

I wrote about eating fruitcake. Most people don’t like fruitcake. But to me, it means unconditional love. So whenever I get fruitcake, it doesn’t matter how much, I’ll eat every bit of it. I’ll eat it all because it’s special. It reminds me of what Christ has done when He rescued me.

Photo: Indian Life

A disabled veteran, Robert Little Fox Hill, visits the book table at the Wiconi “Living Waters Family Camp and Powwow” in Turner, Oregon. “When I asked Jesus into my life, I didn’t know what that all meant at that time but I learned over the years what it means to be Jesus’ son.”


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