Story Of A Life
Childhood in Alencon (1873-1877)


Of farming and army stock, the Martin family had solid roots in Normandy and Mayenne. Brought up in a series of military camps, Louis Martin (1823-1894) thought seriously of entering a monastery. But this was not to be and he turned to clock and watchmaking instead. Zélie Guérin (1831-1877) was also unsuccessful in her attempt to enter the religious order of the Sisters of the Hótel-Dieu. She learned the Alencon lacemaking technique and soon mastered this painstaking craft. They married in 1858 and had nine children. Four, including two boys died in infancy.

Thérèse the youngest, was born on January 2, 1873. She was put out to nurse for a year and became a lively, mischievous and self-confident child. She thrived on the love which surrounded her in this Christian household; where prayer, the liturgy and practical good works formed the basis of her own ardent love of Jesus, her desire to please him and the Virgin Mary. But disaster struck suddenly, when her mother died of breast cancer in the summer of 1877.

The Martin household was a lively place. Thérèse's father, Louis, had a nickname for each of his daughters. Her mother, Zelie, wrote her relatives constantly about the joys each child gave her. Thérèse was the baby and everyone's favorite, especially her mother's. Due to Thérèse's weak and frail condition at birth, she was taken care of by a nurse for her first year and a half. Because of this care, she became a lively, mischievous and self-confident child. But Zélie was not blind to her baby's faults. Thérèse was, she wrote, "incredibly stubborn. When she has said 'no' nothing will make her change her mind. One could put her in the cellar for the whole day." Thérèse's candor appeared early and was unusual. The little one would run to her mother and confess "Mama, I hit Celine (her sister) once-but I won't do it again."

Little Therese was blond, blue-eyed, affectionate, stubborn, and alarmingly precocious. She could throw a giant-sized tantrum. Her bubbling laughter could make a gargoyle smile. In a note, Zélie advised her daughter Pauline: "She (Thérèse) flies into frightful tantrums when things don't go just right and according to her way of thinking; she rolls on the floor in desperation like one without any hope. There are times when it gets too much for her and she literally chokes. She's a nervous child, but she is very good, very intelligent, and remembers everything."

Through it all, however, Thérèse thrived on the love which surrounded her in this Christian home. It was there, that prayer, the liturgy, and practical good works formed the basis of her own ardent love of Jesus, her desire to please Him and the Virgin Mary.

 
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