Chapter 15 Summary

1951-1965

After Henrietta’s death, nobody told the young Lacks children what had happened to their mother. In the 1950s, serious illnesses were not discussed openly in families, and children were expected not to ask questions. Because of this, the disappearance of their mother remained a mystery to them for years.

Day had to work two jobs to support his family, so Lawrence, the oldest of Henrietta’s children, dropped out of school to take care of Sonny, Deborah, and Joe. At sixteen, Lawrence got himself a voter registration card that said he was eighteen. This helped him get into pool halls when he wanted a break—but it also got him drafted into the army to fight in the Korean War.

When Lawrence left for the army, Henrietta’s cousin Ethel and her husband Galen moved into Day's house to care for the three youngest children. Ethel had hated Henrietta, and she tortured the kids. She fed them next to nothing, and she kept the refrigerator and cupboards padlocked shut so they could not steal food. In the summers, she took them to Clover, Virginia and forced them to work in the tobacco fields all day with no food or water. If any one of them stopped for a break without permission, she whipped all of them for it.

Joe, the youngest boy, bore the brunt of Ethel’s anger. She whipped him more than the others and often locked him in the basement for long periods of time. He grew up to be an intensely angry person. One of his childhood hobbies was climbing onto the roof and shooting his BB gun at passersby.

When Lawrence came home from the army, he moved into his own house. For several years he did not know that Ethel was abusing his siblings. He found out around the time that he got married, so he and his new wife, Bobbette, took in Sonny, Deborah, and Joe.

This new living arrangement ended the life of abuse for Joe and Sonny, but not for Deborah. Ethel’s husband Galen sexually molested her for years,...

(The entire section is 526 words.)