John L. Lewis had once imagined a brighter day when his miners would no longer work in mines at all, but could spend their days in the sunshine instead. In Lewis’s vision, mining machines would replace most human mine workers, so that relatively few miners would be needed. Those who were needed would earn a comfortable living in a less strenuous environment, while the great mass of ex-miners would find new careers in other fields. Something akin to that process was now taking place in southwestern Virginia among the descendants of Bob Givens.
By the late 1970s Bob’s son Saylor Givens had watched most of his six sons depart from Westmoreland Coal. Lanis, the oldest, was newly retired after working forty-two years in the mines. Charles had moved to Chicago, and the family had lost touch with him. Ray had moved to Indiana to work in a glass factory. After the Imboden mine closed in 1956, James had moved to New Jersey to run an apple orchard for a large fruit exporting company, only to die there of bone cancer from the insecticide spray used in the orchard. Of the six Givens brothers, only Don and his next-oldest brother, Robert, known as “Rome, ” remained at Westmoreland. Of Saylor’s grandchildren, only Lanis’s son Terry had gone into the mines. (Don’s daughters, by virtue of their gender, had been spared that decision. )
In the years since Don had first encountered Ted Leisenring in the Imboden mine in 1949, Don’s accumulated experience and seniority had brought him job stability and promotions at a time when many younger men were being laid off. After becoming a foreman at Westmoreland’s Wentz mine in 1970, when he was forty, Don was sent that year to Westmoreland’s Bullitt mine as its general mine foreman, and over the next