HER EARLY YEARS
Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin was born on January 2, 1873, and baptized two days later on January 4th. "All my life God surrounded me with love. My first memories are imprinted with the most tender smiles and caresses....Those were the sunny years of my childhood." Thus Therese, twenty-one years later, described her home life in Alencon, France. "My happy disposition," she added with characteristic candor, "contributed to making my life pleasing."
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."
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.