Sunday, January 18, 2009

Grandma Elia's French New Testament

This post was composed for the 13th Edition of the "Cabinet of Curiosities," hosted at Walking the Berkshires.

I suppose it's fitting that my first post about my family be about Elia Legere Hall, my paternal grandmother. She represents the link to my Legere family, my nearest Cajun French ancestors, and the ethnic group with which I most identify, having grown up in Southwest Louisiana. Unfortunately, both she and my paternal grandfather died before I was born, so they are also subjects of my unending curiosity. "What were their personalities like?" "What were their lives like?" "Why did they do the things they did?" are questions I've often asked relatives.

This artifact, a French New Testament, brings me immediately to a thorny subject -- religion -- and it raises as many questions as it answers. The French New Testament was given to my bilingual grandmother in 1935, presumably by a clergyman, and my father gave it to me in 2007.

In September, 1918, Elia Legere was a 29-year-old Catholic Cajun woman who lived with her parents near Scott, Louisiana, taught catechism and kept the account books for her father's farm. Then she met Robert Bunyan Hall, an Irish Protestant brick mason at least 11 years her senior, of mysterious background from Virginia, who previously was known only to her brother-in-law, and then merely as a fishing buddy.

Six weeks or so later, they were married and living in Southeast Texas, Elia no longer teaching catechism or even allowed by her new husband Robert to practice Catholicism. He wasn't having any "idols" in his house, he said, about the accoutrements of rosary and crucifix. Needless to say, Elia's parents were not thrilled, and she probably wasn't, either.

(Left, L-R:) Ovilia Legere Guidry, Elia Legere Hall, Robert Bunyan Hall, Gerome Guidry, c. 1918, near Orange, Texas.

Why would Elia change her life so dramatically? Perhaps at 29, she was despairing of gaining permanent status as an old maid, taking care of her father's farm instead of children and a husband. Perhaps Robert had his charms, despite his faults. They did seem to have affection for one another, it's said, and Grandpa reportedly demanded great respect for Grandma from their children.

Elia did manage to bring religion to her children, and back into her own life, by attending a presumably Robert-sanctioned local Baptist church. Despite her husband's opinions, she did find a way to continue something important to her. For that, I admire her. And she eventually mended fences with her parents, though I'm not sure things were ever exactly the same. My dad said just the other day that the Legeres "never had much use for Daddy." We laughed, though, at the thought that Grandpa probably didn't have much use for them, either, though our Legere relatives are certainly close to our own hearts.

(Left) Bible inscription page

Interestingly, a page of the Bible is turned down, marking I Corinthians, Chapter 7. My dad says he didn't dog-ear the page, and he's the only one besides Grandma, I think, who would have read this Bible. The chapter speaks about problems in marriage; could Elia have taken comfort in scripture during rough times? Perhaps. Robert and Elia's marriage lasted 34 years, until his death in 1952.

I have a feeling this blog may bring up as many questions as it answers; after writing this, I want to talk to more relatives about Robert & Elia. Was she swept off her feet when she left her family for a non-Cajun Protestant? Did he attend church? Was it important to him, or was it important only that Elia not be Catholic? Was she ever accepted by her parents again? Why did Dad think the Legeres "didn't have much use" for Robert?

I have more interviewing to do, it seems ...


  1. Thanks for the interesting description of Elia and the wonderful testament. That reminds me of copies I have of my Welsh great-grandmother's testament. I'd better get to blogging about that. Aloha, Donna

  2. That's a fascinating story; thanks for posting it. It leads me to think about asking my husband's family about his Italian Catholic grandmother and Romanian Jewish grandfather.

  3. Thank you for the encouragement! I was out of town for a family emergency (all's well now), but am back at the computer and intend to keep blogging, and will check out your blogs as well.