Saturday, July 3, 2010

Missing Person: Elmire Chevallier

My mother's first name was Elmire. She was named after her aunt Elmire Chevallier.

I only learned of the existance of Elmire Chevallier a month ago. I learned of her existence in letters my sister Kathy gave to me. Elmire Chevallier was until then a missing person - missing to me at least and those in my family who did not know of her existence.

The name Elmire is not common. I have never been introduced to another Elmire in my lifetime. I never asked my mother the origin of her name, I just thought it pretty. My father shortened the name Elmire to El, and I thought that pretty too. At first I assumed the name origin as Spanish,  translated as"the sea". I have no basis for saying this other than it sounds poetic. I also fancy that my mother was named for Claude Debussy's beautifully then modern composition La Mer, which was composed in 1903, three years after the birth of my very French grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearon.

An etymologist would dispute this interpretation, correcting me by saying that "el mar" is the proper Spanish translation for 'the sea', and that "elmire" translates better as "the view". Further, the word doctor would point out, Elmire is derived from the arabic, Elmira, and means aristocratic lady or princess. With this in mind, I conjure up images of  Arab Moors who swept through Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries and set up castles aand kngdoms in Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. Don't parents always dream images of faraway places and romantic persons when selecting the names of their children?

The name Elmire itself is obscure. The one reference to Elmire I can find is from a character in Moliere's play Tartuffe. The play was written in 1664 and was soon banned by King Louis XIV perhaps because of its racy subject, adultery, but also because the Catholic Church found it was not portrayed favorably. In the play Elmire is the virtuous wife and object of lust by the main character Tartuffe.

My mother's mother was French, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that she was a fan of Moliere. But, the reality is that my mother was named after an aunt, Elmire Chevallier, who lived in Graffigny as did my grandmother. Elmire Chevallier would have been sister to my great grandmother. There still exist several letters between my grandmother Marguerite and her aunt Elmire. Translating them is difficult, not only because of the cursive writing, but also because the long sentences which Elmire was prone to write.

Letters often reveal facts about families that are better left hidden. In letters we reveal our complaints and misfortunes. Keep this in mind for sentences written in haste can be exaggerated or taken out of context.

What I can pick out so far from the letters from Elmire to Marguerite is that there was some dispute as to the family home in Graffigny. So far, I have not found any letters from my great grandmother Laura to her daughter Marguerite. Correspondence seems to have been directred from Marguerite through Elmire to Laura, but whether this correspondence was returned I do not know.

What follows is my translation of a letter from Elmire Chevallier to my grandmother, Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearson postmarked October 5, 1924. The translation obviously needs improvement and in the future I will photograph and post the actual letter. I will update translation as time allows:

M chere M'ite

Hier apres avoir mise a la porte la lettre que j'adressais a la mere, Marc est entre, comme sa femme m'avais apporte la, fameuse que tu lui a envoyee

My dear Marguerite

Yesterday after having put on the door the letter that I adressed to your mother, Mark came, as his wife had me brings, famous as you sent him