Chapter 10 Summary

1999

Soon after her trip to Turner Station, Rebecca drove to Clover, Virginia. There she found a run-down main street full of closed-up shops whose dust-covered merchandise could be seen through the windows. There were some churches, beauty parlors, and one post office still in occasional use—but all were locked when Rebecca arrived. She saw nobody at all except for an old white man with a bicycle who waved hello. She stopped and asked him to direct her to Lacks Town, where Henrietta had grown up. He silently pointed her in the right direction.

As it turned out, Lacks Town was a single road sparsely populated with tiny homes—cabins left over from the slave era, cinderblock shacks, and mobile home trailers. Rebecca drove up and down this road, unsure how to approach the people who lived here. After several trips back and forth, she was flagged down by an old man who asked if she was lost.

When Rebecca asked about Henrietta, the old man said he was her cousin. His name was Hector Henry, but everyone had called him Cootie ever since he had polio as a child. When he was a boy, there was a polio outbreak, but all the iron lungs were in hospitals for white patients. Cootie's skin was fairly light, like a Latino’s, so a white doctor lied about his race in order to check him into a white hospital for treatment.

Cootie invited Rebecca into his house, a plywood and cinderblock structure he’d built on his own, in spite of his partial paralysis from polio. He gave Rebecca a glass of juice and showed her into a living room, where a gospel radio station was playing.

In his living room, Cootie told Rebecca that Henrietta was a good woman, always kind and generous to others no matter what problems she faced in her own life. He said that even after she got sick, she cared for others. He got out the only picture he had of Henrietta, from the Rolling Stone article Rebecca had read.

Cootie had thought a great deal about Henrietta’s cells, and he found it creepy that they were still alive so long after her death. He said her illness must have been “man-made.” When Rebecca did not understand him, he lowered his voice and said, “Voodoo.” He said that spirits and witchcraft were alive in Lacks Town, and that he had seen some himself, adding:

I…know that her cancer wasn’t no regular cancer, cause regular cancer don’t keep on growing after a person die.