Rebecca describes Clover a community in Southern Virginia, which she visits on a warm day in December. By 1998, Clover had a population of only 198 and lost its town charter. The only steady business left is a post office, which is closed when Rebecca arrives. Near one of the shops, Rebecca meets a man called the Greeter, who has spent most of his life welcoming people who come to Clover. She asks him to point her towards Lacks Town.
When Rebecca first arrives at Clover, it has already decayed significantly from the town that Henrietta knew when she was a child. Skloot will latch on to Clover’s degeneration, consistently connecting it with the happy familial past that the Lackses lost when they lost Henrietta.
The divide between Clover and Lacks Town is clear: on one side of the road there are well-kept farms, and on the other side is a series of one-room shacks, slave cabins, cinder-block houses, and trailers. An older man comes out to ask Rebecca if she’s lost. She asks if he’s heard of Henrietta, and he responds that he’s named Cootie, and that he’s Henrietta’s first cousin. He explains that everyone in Lacks Town is related to Henrietta, but that few remember her.
The sharp distinction between Clover and Lacks Town shows just how present racial divides still are in the present, as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow lingers even in the architecture of Lacks Town.Sklootalso highlights the fact that even many of Henrietta’s relatives have forgotten her.
Rebecca describes Cootie’s small house. He’s recently gotten indoor plumbing, but still prefers to use his outhouse. Cootie goes into his bedroom to find papers about Henrietta that he’s hidden under his mattress. He laments the fact that “other countries” are buying Henrietta’s cells, but that the family has never gotten money. He emerges with the Rolling Stone article, but explains that he can’t read, and asks Rebecca if the piece mentions Henrietta’s childhood in Clover.
Cootie lives in even more poverty than Henrietta’s immediate family, even further proof of how much they all could have benefited from more financial recognition of Henrietta’s contributions to science. That Cootie can’t even read the article that praises his cousin is a piece of poignant irony.
Cootie reminisces about Henrietta, whom he remembers as cheerful and loving. He marvels at how her cells have multiplied, explaining that she used to care for him when he was in pain. He imagines that she is still using her cells to help others. None of the Lackses understands, though, how Henrietta’s cells can be alive when she herself is dead. He wonders whether Henrietta’s illness was caused by voodoo, or by doctors performing tests on her.
Cootie here brings in another crucial thread: the Lacks family’s belief that Henrietta’s spirit still remains in HeLa, and that HeLa heals people because of her kindness and blessedness. His reference to voodoo also proves just how far removed his frame of reference is from the world of cell culturing.