The Art of Breathing

The Art of Breathing

by Janie DeVos


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781601836847
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.53(d)

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The Art of Breathing

By Janie DeVos


Copyright © 2017 Janie DeVos
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60183-684-7


April 1954

I was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, in the small logging town of Howling Cut. And though it was just two hours away from the city of Cabot, where I would live once I was married, the difference between the two places made it hard to believe they were so close. Cabot had grown by leaps and bounds, and social status and wealth were the measuring sticks of success. By contrast, Howling Cut grew at a much slower pace because of its higher elevation and far harsher weather. For the people in my hometown, success was measured by the number of winters and illnesses you were able to survive, and whether or not you could hang on to the family farm for another year.

My parents, Jack and Rachel Harris, built the white two-story house I grew up in on the edge of their enormous apple orchard. My home wasn't far from my great-grandmother's place, which she'd bought as a young woman in the 1880s and where my grandmother and mother had been born. The town was so small that most everyone was related in some way, even if they were "distant, distant somethings," and if they weren't related, then you could bet your last dollar that they knew each other well — well enough to know things about each other that they probably shouldn't have.

I was the first of Jack and Rachel's three children, and I looked like a combined image of the two. My hair was dark brown, like Daddy's, and my nose was the female version of his straight and strong one, but the rest of my facial structure was much like Mama's. We both had light eyes as well, but whereas hers were a true "Carolina blue," just like the sky on an October day, mine were as green as the grass in June.

My brother, Andrew, was sixteen months younger than I, and nearly a carbon copy of me. Though he'd grown into a ruggedly handsome young man, he'd been a beautiful, almost delicate-looking baby. I thought he was pretty and called him such, although my toddler's attempt at saying the word "pretty" came out sounding like "Ditty," and the name stuck.

Our sister, Emily Nell, came into the world two years after Ditty, and she was fierce and fearless from the start. I heard Mama once say that she was startled when she first laid eyes on Emily Nell because she reminded her so much of her own sister, my wayward aunt Merry Beth, whom I'd never met. According to Mama, both had hair as black as the inside of a coal mine, and it grew as fast and wild as a wisteria vine. And apparently, both of their spirits were about as wild, too. I'd questioned Mama about my aunt a few times, but it wasn't a conversation she wanted to get into. She simply said that Merry Beth had ended up going down the wrong road with the wrong ride; then Mama would conveniently find something else to distract us.

When Emily Nell was two years old, she caught a cold that just wouldn't go away. It was early January, and we were experiencing record cold that winter. The house was warm enough, but even so, the north wind crept through every tiny space it could find in the walls, relentlessly working to bring the below-zero temperatures into our home. Daddy kept the kerosene heaters full, and the fireplaces blazed, but even so, Emily Nell developed pneumonia.

For nearly a week, the roads were impassable because of the thick layer of ice that covered them like glaze on a coffeecake, and we stayed frozen in place because of it. The house grew quieter as Emily Nell's ragged breathing grew louder, until all sounds of her began to fade. I felt a certain amount of sympathy for her, as much as I could at my very young age, anyway. But there would come a time when I would have the deepest kind of empathy for her, and not because I was an adult by then but because I was no longer a bystander.

My parents knew that they had no choice if there was any chance of saving my baby sister, so wrapping her as warmly as they could, they took her to the hospital in Marion, slip-sliding down the mountain roads as they did so, all the while praying to God that they would not all die in the attempt.

Though they arrived at the hospital in one piece, and the doctors used every medication and technique available to them at the time, Emily Nell was just too far gone. She died there in Mama's arms three days later. It was the darkest period I've ever seen my family go through, and even though I was only six years old at the time, I'll always remember the black grief that gripped our family as deeply and as painfully as the north wind that winter.

But spring unfailingly returned, as did the cycle of seasons over and over again, and through those years, my parents expanded their apple orchard as often as they could. They had contracts with the Gerber baby food company and with several restaurants in Cabot and nearby Asheville, and every year, it seemed, more of my parents' apples were in demand.

The spring freeze of '44 had damaged many of the trees, and that year my parents were forced to purchase apples from orchards farther south in order to fulfill their contracts. Over the following two years they'd had to purchase more trees as well as more land, leaving less money to help with my college expenses. So I worked long hours as a short-order cook at Woolworth's, in Durham, to help make ends meet.

I'd decided to study nursing at Watts Hospital School of Nursing, just as my father's sister, my Aunt Harriet, had done, and I met my future husband, Geoffrey Cavanaugh, during his final year of law school at Duke. One late frigid January evening in 1948, I had just begun to degrease the grill after a twelve-hour shift when a highly intoxicated Geoffrey, along with several of his fellow law school friends, staggered in. Silently scolding myself for not having locked the door before starting on the grill, I grabbed an order pad and walked to the middle of the counter where the four inebriated men had made themselves at home on the red leather stools.

"What can I get y'all?" I asked, with pencil and pad at the ready. But the men were in their own world, laughing at things that only they found humorous, and slurring any word that had more than one syllable. I waited another minute for the customers to pull themselves together, but when they still couldn't, I firmly told them that I had work to do and asked them to leave. However, one of the men, shorter and stockier than the other three, did not take well to being told what to do and he declared that I had all the telltale signs of being the daughter of an ignorant cabbage farmer.

"Easy there, Tanner." Geoffrey immediately interceded, rising from his stool and moving to stand behind him, then slapping him on the back much too forcefully to have been a friendly gesture. "The poor girl is just trying to get out of here, that's all. No need to insult her. As a matter of fact, you really owe her an apology."

At the same time, he applied just enough pressure that his friend croaked out a very disingenuous and humiliated, "I'm sorry!"

"There now, don't you feel better?" Geoffrey asked the red-faced young man, patting the place he'd squeezed. "Let's go. Let the young lady close up. We'll get a bite over at Dusky's." The four of them started for the door, but not before Geoffrey laid an extravagant tip of five dollars on the counter and said, "Sorry for the trouble, pretty lady. I'll be seeing you." Then, smiling broadly at me, he opened the door and, with a great flourish, bowed while sweeping his hand out before him and allowing the other three to exit before him. When he straightened up, he looked at me and winked, and in return I smiled a soft, grateful smile. Then he, too, walked out.

I quickly went to the door and locked it while my eyes remained on the handsome young man with the dark blond hair as he rejoined his group. Abruptly, I turned away, though, wishing that I'd done so a half second sooner, for Geoffrey had turned around just in time to catch me watching him, as if he was sure I would be. Smiling, he lifted his hand in a wave before he walked out of the circle of light cast by a street lamp, and faded into the darkness.

He came back the following evening, only to find that I had the night off. However, by using his charming, persuasive style, he talked my coworker into divulging my name and address, and showed up at my apartment door. I'd been in the midst of studying my anatomy book when the doorbell rang. Thinking that one of my roommates had forgotten her key again, I opened the door, only to find the handsome man from the night before amusedly assessing me in my faded flannel robe (with one missing pocket), hair tied in rags, and cold cream covering my face. I froze, uncertain whether I should invite him in first; slam the door, clean myself up, and then invite him in; or tell him he was rude to show up uninvited, and slam the door on him forever.

Before I could respond in any way, Geoffrey began to laugh and told me that I was the sweetest thing he'd ever seen just as I looked at that very moment. I couldn't help but laugh, too, and I let him in.

He started asking me out after that, and whenever we were together — which wasn't too often, at first — I'd catch him watching me with a mixture of amusement and fascination. I asked him about it once and he told me that he was charmed by the fact that I'd ventured out on my own, and because I wasn't the usual high-society girl that he'd grown up with. I was a rarity to Geoffrey, and trying to figure out how to snare me was a challenge that he just couldn't resist.

Making that challenge more appealing to him was the fact that I resisted. It wasn't that the interest wasn't there, but I just didn't have much time. Almost every hour that wasn't spent on schoolwork was spent behind the counter at Woolworth's. However, the more I said no to going out with him, the more determined he was to see me. He ate more greasy cheeseburgers than probably all of Duke's student body as he waited for me to close up in the evenings. And he spent many late nights and weekend nights sitting in the library with me as I trudged through my anatomy and biology books, while he studied for college finals and then the North Carolina bar exam in preparation for a position within his family's prestigious law firm in Cabot.

He was more than ready to leave his college days behind, but not quite as ready to leave me in the past with them. So, after only six months of dating, he asked me to marry him. I felt like I loved him and wanted to be with him, but I knew that would mean leaving behind my college days, as well. I just couldn't say no. For one thing, he was unlike anyone I'd ever known. He was sophisticated and elegant, and I was more than a little flattered that he took such an interest in me. And I would have been lying if I said that the idea of living a life of prestige and grandeur in the old-moneyed city of Cabot, with a son of the old-moneyed Cavanaugh family, wasn't exciting.

In the end, I decided to put my dreams of finishing nursing school on hold. I told him I'd marry him, while telling myself in no uncertain terms that I'd finish my training after settling into married life. What I found over time, however, was that Geoffrey had very specific ideas as to what his wife should be, and a nurse to the ailing, aging, and disabled did not fit within those parameters. But any remaining pangs of regret I felt at abandoning my career were quickly replaced by a love and happiness that was more whole and complete than any I'd ever imagined when our son, Geoffrey Donald Jr, was born less than a year after we were married.

My son's first few years of life were some of the happiest I'd ever known. But all too soon, I would be made to wonder if there wasn't some cruel law of the universe that prevented a soul from being too happy for too long before it indifferently snuffed that joy out.


Home to Howling Cut

The weak light that softly illuminated the windows of the train depot grew stronger as the early morning sun slowly eroded the darkness. It was just before seven o'clock, and I was headed home to Howling Cut. It was a big occasion for my family: My mother's brother, Prescott, was finally getting married. I'd tried to convince Geoffrey to come with Donnie and me, though I knew it was a waste of time. He was busy at work. As usual.

And wedding or not, Geoffrey disliked the country, and though he did not dislike my family, there was a distance between them that was simply born from not having anything much in common with each other. My father talking apples to Geoffrey was as foreign to him as Geoffrey talking to Daddy about patents, acquisitions, and mergers. Deep inside, I always wondered if Geoffrey was a little embarrassed by my very humble beginnings. Of course, he would never admit that, maybe not even to himself.

As we stood on the train platform, one of the lapels on my fawn-colored wool coat was turned under and Geoffrey straightened it. "I'm sorry I'll miss the wedding, Kathryn," he said softly, looking up from my lapel. There was genuine regret in his eyes and voice. "Your uncle seems like a good man. Give him my congratulations, please." Then, looking down at Donnie, he gently placed his hand on the little blond head and said to his son's upturned face, "Be a good boy, son. Mind your mother and your grandparents, all right?"

"Yes, sir," Donnie replied, then was quickly distracted again by the arrival of another traveler coming through the station door.

"Geoffrey, go on now. We'll see ourselves off. You keep looking at your pocket watch as if you're afraid it's going to up and disappear. I know you have a lot to do, so go on, please. We'll be fine."

"Well ... all right, then." He leaned down, gave me a quick kiss on the lips and asked me, yet again, if I was sure I had enough money, as he slipped on his overcoat. "Don't forget, they're two-way tickets, Kathryn. They're all paid for, so make sure the conductor gives them back to you after he punches them for this leg of the trip. Donald, take care of your mother, son." Geoffrey awkwardly pulled the boy to him. Donnie hugged him in response but only briefly, for almost immediately Geoffrey released him and headed for the door. We watched the back of him as he exited the station, and glancing down, I saw the longing on our son's face.

"Let's go look at the train we're taking, honey," I said, pulling his attention away from his retreating father, and steering him over to the window opposite the one that looked out over the parking lot where Geoffrey had left his car. "It's been a while since you've been on one. Why, you weren't more than a tiny little fella, and that was when we went to see Grandma and Papa. You've grown so much I bet they won't recognize you. They'll think I accidentally grabbed some other child's hand when I got off the train!" Donnie muttered a distracted "uh-huh" as he watched the porter loading luggage into the storage compartment.

It pained me to see the hurt that the distance between Geoffrey and Donnie caused my little boy, caused them both, really. I saw the attempts our son made to please his father or just to get his attention, but unsurprisingly, Geoffrey was the same sort of father that his own father had been to him.

I knew that for men like Geoffrey, there was no lack of love for their children, but there was confusion about the proper order of life's priorities. Family was a few spots down that list, with career, wealth, and social status topping it. Poor God was even further down in the rankings than the family, and I often prayed that He would be forgiving of His low status in the opinion of my husband and in-laws. Geoffrey once told me that without wealth (which was acquired by the firm), and without good standing in society, they wouldn't have the family they did. It never occurred to him that my own family, which had nothing close to that kind of wealth, had done all right anyway.

It worried me that the older Donnie got, the deeper his pain would be felt, for it was likely that he would be greatly conflicted as he was caught between two worlds: the world of wealth and power versus a world of simple living, where money was not often in abundance, but love was, and it was given generously and without apology.

I knew that Geoffrey wanted to be closer to his son, but I also knew that he felt a deeper, more meaningful relationship would develop through the years, when Donnie was better able to relate to his father. It was as though the childhood years with our son belonged to me, while the adult years would be Geoffrey's, as he groomed him to traverse the same roads that generations of Cavanaughs had navigated so well.

The train belched coal steam as it sat idling impatiently on the tracks. Donnie was getting impatient, too, and started to ask me for the third time when we'd be leaving. Just then the conductor called for all travelers bound for Marion to board. Picking up my purse, a small wicker basket carrying our lunch, and our suitcase, we moved to the back of the small line gathering at the train's open door.


Excerpted from The Art of Breathing by Janie DeVos. Copyright © 2017 Janie DeVos. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


"Donnie, I need to talk to you about something important.",
Also by,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
CHAPTER 2 - Home to Howling Cut,
CHAPTER 3 - A Very Solid Whole,
CHAPTER 4 - A Glass Half Full,
CHAPTER 5 - Withered Things,
CHAPTER 6 - A Shivaree,
CHAPTER 7 - One Word,
CHAPTER 8 - Past Meets Present,
CHAPTER 9 - Altered Lives,
CHAPTER 10 - The Threshold,
CHAPTER 11 - Rules and Rebels,
CHAPTER 12 - Patients and Patience,
CHAPTER 13 - On the Front Lines,
CHAPTER 14 - Crossing Paths,
CHAPTER 15 - News from Home,
CHAPTER 16 - Spirits of the Darkness and Light,
CHAPTER 17 - An Inconvenient Truth,
CHAPTER 18 - The Great Divide,
CHAPTER 19 - A Hobbyhorse Rodeo,
CHAPTER 20 - A Visit from Santa,
CHAPTER 21 - A Birthday,
CHAPTER 22 - Lungs and Tyrone,
CHAPTER 23 - Of Earth and Air,
CHAPTER 24 - Yessiree, George!,
CHAPTER 25 - Promises Broken, Promises Kept,
CHAPTER 26 - Divided We Fall,
CHAPTER 27 - Parting Paths,
CHAPTER 28 - Lost and Found,
CHAPTER 29 - The Ties That Bind,
CHAPTER 30 - The Betrayal,
CHAPTER 31 - Declaring Victory,
CHAPTER 32 - The Feeling of Home,
CHAPTER 33 - The Power of Love,
CHAPTER 34 - Prodigal Sons,
CHAPTER 35 - Fight or Flight,
CHAPTER 36 - Ends ...,
CHAPTER 37 - ... Another Road Begins,
Teaser chapter,

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The Art of Breathing 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A WONDERFUL BOOK, very insightful into the TB sanitariums and emerging knowledge and treatments. Very good research.I have worked with TB patients and still learned some things I did not know. A good, well written story. I loved the family. I look forward to reading more from this author .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well-written story about a woman who finds herself when illness forces her to step away from her life and find what's really most important, as it reveals truths about others in her life - those who stand with her, the new friends she makes, and the one she finally must realize will never understand the art of breathing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very emotional story set back in the 1950’s. Started reading and couldn’t put it down. Would recommend it wholeheartedly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book, although I had trouble sticking with it at first. A lot of time the writing seemed a little stiff and the dialogue somewhat forced, but overall I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable for those of a certain age that remember those times
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story with a sweet plot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I ejoyed reading this book could not put it down .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was well written and made me think of many social issues in a different light.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow moving. Interesting insight into 1950's medicine. A little dark in places but honest stoyline.
conni7 More than 1 year ago
This book was an interesting and well-written look at life in the fifties in general, and how it felt to have a disease that in many cases was deadly. The main character, Kathryn, a young wife and mother is placed in a sanatorium because she has tuberculosis. For the most part, Kathryn is a good wife and mother; her husband, Geoffrey, makes the decisions for his household. He comes from a background of money and high society. On the other hand, she is the daughter of a man who owns an orchard, and Geoffrey looks down on her family calling them hillbillies. The differences in their lifestyles are brought out in this story, and I couldn’t help but think her family had the better life. Theirs’ was a life of openly caring and enjoying the small things. Geoffrey’s was a life of making money by working 6 or 7 days a week so his family could have the best. But as Kathryn so often points out, the best would be having a husband who spends more time with her family. As the book progresses, Kathryn forges friendships with the people she meets in the sanatorium. And like so much of life, there are hard times ahead with losses, but also times to rejoice over. I appreciated how the author showed Kathryn growing and becoming more willing to stand for what she wanted.