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Mrs. Levi said that when William had asked her to marry him, her uncle refused to give his permission because he wanted her to remain as a servant in their home. She was only seventeen, and the state law said anyone under eighteen had to have permission from the legal guardian, so William set out to see what he could do about it.
William didn’t return for a few days, and her uncle smirked that he had scared him off. But William did return, and he announced he was ready to marry her.
“I told you I would not give my permission,” the uncle angrily said.
“Millie told me you didn’t really want her, and it appears that is the case,” William replied. “I hired a lawyer, and he discovered that you never legally adopted her. So, you are not officially her legal guardian and don’t have a say in the matter.”
Mrs. Levi said her uncle stood there speechless for a moment, then left in a hurry. She found out later that he had rushed to town and filled out the paperwork for the adoption. He even forged a signature for her on it. But then the clerk informed him that since she was older than fourteen, she would have to stand before a judge to declare her desire for the adoption.
He still wasn’t about to give up his free help, so a few days later, the case was scheduled in court. Mrs. Levi said her uncle threatened her, saying she better agree to the adoption. But when the time came, she told the judge she did not want the adoption.
“Then why did you sign the paper?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” she replied. “I can’t even write in cursive like that since I haven’t been allowed to go to school since I came to my aunt and uncle’s house. I learned to read previously, but I never learned to write like that.”
She then explained about her parents’ deaths and how her aunt and uncle treated her like a servant.
The judge turned to the uncle. “You didn’t let her go to school? You do know that’s against the law, don’t you?”
The uncle stuttered that they home-schooled her.
“Really?” the judge said. “But I understand your own children went to school. And do you really have the skills to teach her the required subjects, including reading, writing, and math?”
“Yes,” the uncle replied.
“I have a minor in math,” the judge said. “I will have you answer a few algebra questions to verify that.”
The uncle’s face turned white. “Well, maybe not so much in math.” He paused briefly, then said, “Perhaps I should just withdraw my adoption request.”
“That might be a good idea,” the judge replied. “But I don’t like people lying to me. I think we need to consider the issue of her inheritance and what you have done with it.”
Mrs. Levi paused her story so I asked, “Did you ever get any of your inheritance?”
She shook her head. “My uncle had gambled it away. I probably could have pushed for it, but I just wanted to start a new life outside the control of my aunt and uncle. So later that day, William’s family joined us, and that same judge married us. I wanted to have my cousin, Leah, come, too, but my aunt and uncle wouldn’t let her.”
I looked at her hand. “That’s a pretty ring he got you.”
She laughed. “Oh, this isn’t the ring William gave me when we were married. He had spent all his money on the lawyer. He gave me a prairie diamond. Do you know what that is?”
“I’ve read about it in pioneer stories,” I replied, “but I don’t really know what it is.”
She went and got the ring and showed it to me. It was a horseshoe nail bent in a circle.
“Many people who had little money got them,” Mrs. Levi said. “They only cost five cents at the local blacksmith shop. But I loved this ring and the fact it represented William’s love for me. But William still wanted me to have something nice. That’s why he bought the cookie jar. He knew I loved cookies, and it was all he could afford.”
She smiled and seemed caught up in the memory. “For a few years, we were so happy.”
She paused a moment, then looked up at me. “Then the United States entered into The Great War, and William was called to serve.”
(To be continued)