Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (made into the 1999 movie, October Sky) and the Coalwood Series, offers a personal insight into what it was like to grow up in a West Virginia coal miner’s family in Coaltown, WV:

My mother hated the mine. She saw Dad leave the house every morning and disappear inside it. She argued with him constantly about it, begging him to quit. But he never did, not until he began to spit up blood and his miners refused to let him go inside any more. Sitting there, in my little copse of pine, I couldn’t understand why my dad loved the mine so much. Eventually, I went underground and then I knew. He loved the challenge of coal mining. He loved the choreography of the miners at the face, a ballet of heavy machinery. He loved that mining coal defined who he was and it gave him an identity and a source of pride.

Courtesy of National Public Radio, read the entire essay here.