The Martin household was a lively place. Therese'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. Therese was the baby and everyone's favorite, especially her mother's.
Due to Therese'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 Zelie was not blind to her baby's faults.
Therese 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." Therese'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, Zelie advised her daughter Pauline: "She (Therese) 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."
Celine (left) and Therese, age 8.
Through it all, however, Therese thrived on the love which surrounded her in this Christian home. It was here, 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.
"I CHOOSE ALL"
At the age of twelve, Therese's sister Leonie felt she had no further use for her doll dressmaking kit, and stuffed a basket full of materials for making new dresses. Leonie then offered it to her six year old sister, Celine, and her two year old sister, Therese.
"Choose what you wish, little sisters," invited Leonie. Celine took a little ball of wool that pleased her. Therese simply said, "I choose all." She accepted the basket and all its goods without ceremony. This incident revealed Therese's attitude toward life. She never did anything by halves; for her it was always all or nothing.
On Sundays, Louis and Zelie Martin would take their daughters on walks. Therese loved the wide open spaces and the beauty of the countryside about Alencon. Frequently, the walks tired little Therese. This would result in "Papa" Martin carrying his daughter home in his arms.
Unfortunately, the pleasant family times would soon come to an end. The shadow of death that had previously occupied the Martin household, once more relentlessly returned. Therese's mother, Zelie (after an illness of twelve years), died of breast cancer in August, 1877. Therese was only four years old at the time.
THE WINTER OF GREAT TRIAL
Shortly after his wife's death, Louis Martin moved his family of five girls (ranging in ages from four to seventeen) to Lisieux. He rented a home and named it "Les Buissonnets" ("The Hedges"). Therese then entered what she termed "the second" and "most painful" period of her life. Because of the shock of her mother's death, "my happy disposition completely changed," she remembered. "I became timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree...."
Louis Martin and his daughters did all they could to help little Therese who missed her mother so much. They lavished affection and attention upon the motherless child. At Les Buissonnets, under the tutelage of her sisters Marie and Pauline, Therese began her first schooling.
Each day after classes were over she joined her father in his study. Louis called Therese his "little queen." Eventually the two would go for a walk. They would visit a different church each day and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The bond between father and daughter grew stronger and stronger. "How could I possibly express the tenderness which Papa showered upon his queen?" she later exclaimed. Her sister Celine, nearly four years older, became her favorite playmate.
The passage is all the more remarkable because it revealed the theme of exile which dominated her whole life. Therese maintained the first word she learned to read was "heaven." From her childhood she interpreted all her world as only the beginning, only a glimpse of a glorious future.
Sundays had tremendous significance. They were days of rest tinged with melancholy because they must end. It was on a Sunday evening this youngster felt the pang of exile of this earth. "I longed," she explained, "for the everlasting repose of heaven - that never ending Sunday of the fatherland..."
Therese, given the proper occasion, continued to produce extreme temper tantrums. The following is her own account of one of the more sparkling scenes that took place between herself and her poor nurse, Victoire.
"I wanted an inkstand which was on the shelf of the fireplace in the kitchen; being too little to take it down, I very nicely asked Victoire to give it to me. But she refused, telling me to get up on a chair. I took a chair without saying a word, but thinking she wasn't too nice; wanting to make her feel it, I searched out in my little head what offended me the most. She often called me a 'little brat' when she was annoyed at me and humbled me very much.
So before jumping off my chair, I turned around with dignity and said, 'Victoire, you are a brat!' Then I made my escape leaving Victoire to meditate on the profound statement I had just made... I thought, if Victoire didn't want to stretch her big arm to do me a little service, she merited the title 'brat.'"