Farms of Lancaster County, PA and Semalle, France

Do you ever have your plans changed by a whim? That is exactly what happened to Maria and me yesterday. We had planned to have a full day of work and writing, but the beautiful, cool weather of late-summer beckoned us to Amish Country in Lancaster County, PA. Mind you – nobody had to twist our arms! We gathered our maps and drinks and hit the road for the 45 minute drive westward.

The time passed quickly as we drove over a ridge and saw the perfect panorama of quilted fields and rolling hills unfold before us. Occasionally the aroma of farm animals also came to us! I veered the car off of Rt. 30 and onto a secondary road called Rt. 772. This serpentine route wound through checkered cornfields and past farms with barns, herds of cows, silos, and rows of Amish clothing flapping on clotheslines. Every so often we would pass an Amish child on a scooter or bicycle or a distictive black Amish buggy with the obligatory orange triangle on the back for safety. Animal pens contained miniature horses, goats, cows, horses, and sheep. Sometimes these herds were grouped under the lone tree in the pen for shade. Endless cornfields gave way to fields of tobacco and soybeans. At one point, a modern tractor was driving toward us on one side of the road and a team of four horses was pulling an Amish rider and a plow on the other side. The juxtaposition of the two ways of life highlighted the great contrast between them.

We walked through the Kitchen Kettle Village and purchased some of the typical Amish fare of smoked cheeses and sausages, jams, crackers, pickled beets, and homemade root beer. I sat on a bench and listened to two elderly men playing their banjos as Maria browsed in a candle shop. One store had multicolored quilts of all varieties hanging in the windows and another displayed Amish furniture. I asked someone why the Village was so crowded on a Monday and she replied that it always was because it was closed on Sundays.

After pillaging the Village, we arrived back at the car with our booty. I drove the car back onto the main road while nibbling on smoked cheese. We departed the famous town of Intercourse, PA and into the equally well-named Bird-in-Hand. We were drawn to a bakery advertising homemade peach pies like the Millenium Falcon was drawn by the tractor-beam of the Death Star in the movie ‘Star Wars’!  The fight was useless – the pies won. The woman in the bakery adorned our peach pie with dollops of whipped cream and we once again made off with our spoils.

My Dad always said when I was growing up that the true Americana could only be seen from small roads. Since we wanted to see Americana at its finest, we meandered on such roads for a long time. One tertiary road led right up to the front porch of a farmhouse and I had to back the car up for a hundred yards before turning around so I could drive off the property. We arrived home safely in the late afternoon and had a dinner of (you guessed it) smoked cheeses, sausages, and topped off with peach pie.

The farmland that we saw reminded me of the farm in Semalle, France where St. Therese spent the first year of her life.  As an infant Therese suffered from intestinal problems that could only be remedied by breast-feeding. Zelie Martin, Therese’s mother, was not able to breast-feed, so a wet nurse by the name of Rose Taille was employed to take care of the future saint. Rose lived with her husband, Moise, and their four children in the hamlet of Semalle some five miles from Therese’s family in Alencon. Therese lived with her foster family from March 1873 to April 1874 and thrived in the country air.  Zelie wrote about this necessary separation: “But my poor little one has left. It’s very sad to have raised a child for two months and then have to entrust her to strangers’ hands. What consoles me is knowing that God wants it this way, since I did everything I could to raise her myself. So I have nothing to reproach myself for in this regard. I would really have preferred to keep the wet nurse at my house, as would my husband. He didn’t want the others, (some of the other wet nurses had drinking problems or were negligent) but he very much wanted this one. He knows her to be an excellent woman.” (A Call To A Deeper Love, p. 111-112)

The following description paints a vivid picture of Therese’s life with the Tailles on their farm in Semalle: “Until she was weaned, she was never again out of her foster mother’s sight. The existence of Rose, like that of most French peasants, was made up of heavy drudgery and endless toil, but she accepted her lot in life with a placid patience characteristic of her kind, and she showed remarkable resourcefulness in the care of her small charge. When she went out into the fields to work, she took Therese with her in a wheelbarrow, making a nest of hay for the baby in the bottom of this; while she was doing her milking, she knotted the baby securely in her wide apron, which served as a hammock; and when she required complete freedom of all her limbs for her labors, she fastened the baby ingeniously to the cow itself. This family cow, whose name was La Rousse – Russet Lady – was a very important member of the peasant household. Even the most skeptical or unimaginative mind could not fail to be impressed with the progress which little Therese herself was making as she rode on Russet Lady’s back and slept on the fragrant hay piled on the wheelbarrow. She had rapidly outgrown her fragility. By the time she was ten months old, she could stand alone. When her first birthday rolled around, she was walking; and before she went back to her parents’ home, at the age of fifteen months, she was talking, too. Her pleasant little face was framed with fair curls and wreathed in bright smiles.” (Therese: Saint of A Little Way, Keyes, p. 48, 49)

The fields of Lancaster County, PA proved rejuvenating for Maria and me as the fields of Semalle had been for Therese over a century ago.

Today is the Feast Day of Pope St. Pius X. He was Pope from 1903-1914 and he was responsible for lowering the age when children could receive Holy Communion to age 7. He was largely inspired to take this action after reading a letter of St. Therese where she encouraged such practices.

Yesterday after returning from Amish Country, Maria and I were leaving a chapel and we ran into an old acquaintance. She showed us a first-class relic of St. Therese that was given to her 30 years ago and which she always keeps with her. The relic was a piece of Therese’s bone in a reliquary. We venerated the relic and it was the perfect ending to the day.

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