A Russian Marriage:
William Alfred Cokey, American Press Association — 1910
and Natasha Shuben were to be married. It was high time,
for Maksim, big and broad shouldered, was nineteen, and
Natasha, buxom and pretty, was fifteen.
[Who are the people in this story? Marriage of Maksim Ivanich Nazaroff (or Nevaroff) and Natasha Shubin, Los Angeles 1910. Maksim's mother is Olga. Natasha's mother is Katya. Maksim had 4 married brothers.]
Notwithstanding Maksim and Natasha had themselves nothing to say about their marriage they were neither of them averse.
Yes, Maksim and Natasha loved and were going to marry. So far so good. But how were they going to be married?
By the church, of course, spake the elders of the Molokan sect. No license, no newfangled legal frivolities in theirs, please. These things belonged to the heathen, the pork eaters, the unclean.
But Maksim thought otherwise. He wanted the knot tied in the Los Angeles way. In America, It seemed to him, you should get married as the Americans do.
Maksim worked in a lumber yard. One by one he had seen the young men who worked with him absent themselves temporarily on mysterious errands and be good naturedly rallied by the others on their return. Little by little he had learned the legal steps to marriage — when and where and how to obtain the license and the cost, then to whom to go and what to do and the final cost. And with this knowledge had come the idea, dim and hazy at first, that this was the best way to do. Besides and above all, Rev. Mr. Lowell stood for it — Mr. Lowell, the head of the Good Samaritan Settlement House on Del Mar street,* to whom all the foreign quarter looked up and whom Maksim almost worshiped.
[* Renamed the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, Inc., founded by the Episcopal Diocese in 1894.]
Natasha was like minded and for quite similar reasons. She worked in a cannery. She had gone to school a little, and in numberless indirect ways she had reached the conclusion that, while the Molokans marriage was well enough in Russia, it would never do in the United States.
The Saturday night following the marriage negotiations Maksim came home from his work and, as usual, placed his week's wages, twelve good American dollars, in his father's hands.
"Maksim," said the old man. speaking in Russian — "Maksim. my son, it has been arranged* between Elder Shuben [Fillip M. Shubin] and myself that you and the fair Natasha are to be married. You are both quite old enough. You are to be married one week from tomorrow, I trust you are happy at the prospect, my son."
[* Arranged marriages among Spiritual Christians were also documented in the 1960s in Kars (Turkey), in the 1950s in Persia (Iran), and Mexico 1910-1930s. From December 1911 to August 1914 Spiritual Christians in Los Angeles, were in court and the news for selling brides and not registering marriages.]
"Yes," assented Maksim, "I want to marry Natasha. but"— And he hesitated, his eyes on the floor.
"But what?" demanded old Evan.
"How are we to be married?" tentatively asked Maksim.
"How married? By the elders, of course. Natasha's mother, Katga [Katya], is already preparing the feast."
"But." objected Maksim, hesitating, for he well knew the storm he was about to call down upon his head — "but Natasha and I don't want it that way. We want to get married, with a — a paper, by a Justice or — or Mr. Lowell, in the American way. It is our wish."
The effect was as he expected. The whole communal family — Evan and Olga, his wife, and the four older sons and their wives — who had gathered about, were inexpressibly shocked. Old Evan's long grey beard swept his breast in his agitation.
"What!" he thundered. "You will forsake the church for the heathen ways — the heathen whom the Lord promised were to be scattered or become our servants when we entered this our Canaan? You will take up with these unclean pork eaters?" And he railed on amid a general family chorus of lamentations.
In the meantime a similar storm had broken out in the family of the Shuben's, a storm that beat about the devoted head of poor Natasha.
And the next day the news spread quickly over the whole of "Eden," [Flats] as some newspaper wag had facetiously named the Molokan quarter [Flats], that the expected marriage was not to take place for the good and sufficient reason that both the prospective bride and groom were possessed of devils. There was busy gossip; there was a ferment of excitement; there were wild rumors.
At bottom the trouble was a contest between two modes of life.
Hour by hour the boy and girl realized more and more the seriousness of the situation. They were both under tremendous pressure of public opinion. How to got married in the American way and not split the Molokan community wide open and work their own ruin was a problem too big for the peasant lovers. They could not elope, as Americans might. They were aliens in an alien land.
Slowly an idea shaped itself in Maksim's mind. He would lay the whole matter before Mr. Lowell, who was infallible and would surely have a solution.
The settlement worker listened patiently to the boy's labored explanation, thinking hard and planning the while.
Threw his long arms over his head. (Color added.)
"Maksim," he said when the young man had finished, "I think I can help you. Get away from your work between 2 and 4 tomorrow afternoon and come to me. Don't let your folks know where you are."
Maksim was promptly on hand at the hour first named, and Mr. Lowell said, "Come with me."
Together they visited "Dan Cupid" Elmer, the marriage license clerk at the courthouse, where Mr. Lowell, by deftly evading certain little technicalities, aided the boy in securing the precious license. Then, cautioning secrecy, he said, "See Natasha as quietly as you can and bring her to the settlement house tomorrow afternoon at 4 o'clock."
Four o'clock the following afternoon promptly brought the lovers, and as promptly the two were made one and happy at the same time. Mr. Lowell handing Maksim the certificate at the close of the simple ceremony, which his wife had witnessed, saying; "Now you are married as well as the president of the United States or John D. Rockefeller. Say nothing to your people about this marriage and let the other marriage proceed. To be married twice won't do any harm, and it will satisfy your relatives, yourselves and the laws of California all at the same time. God bless you!" And Maksim and Natasha went their ways with the reverent feeling that "God" and "Mr. Lowell" were synonymous terms.
That evening there was a crowded meeting of the faithful of both sexes and all ages. Devils were to be exorcised. The air was surcharged with suppressed excitement.
Maksim and Natasha were both in attendance, the boy dutifully occupying a seat on the men's side, and Natasha sitting demurely on her side among the women.
The meeting began with the usual chant, the words of a Bible psalm being intoned in unison by the entire assemblage with long practiced rhythm and accent far more precise than musical. This chant was followed by another, the elders, who sat about a small table in a corner. leading and the rest following, while rough shod feet kept time against the uncarpeted floor.
The air of the place soon grew foul. Not a window or door was open, and the stamping feet raised a suffocating dust, to say nothing of the vocal exhalations of the hot, excited mass. It was evident that if the devils could not he expelled in any other way the air would soon become so rotten that no devil who had any regard for his health would stay.
During the progress of the service thus far many covert glances had been cast at Maksim and Natasha. Anxious watch was kept on them for the first sign that they were being freed from the Satanic spirits within them.
Maksim noted this, and when the meeting was about half over, the benches having been removed and the whole company were standing, he walked to the elders' corner and whispered something in his father's ear.
It must have been an assent to the church marriage, for instantly the old patriarch, his face flushed, his eyes glistening and his whole attitude proclaiming that Maksim had got the better of his devils, threw up his great arms and began a new chant. At the same moment Natasha, taking her cue no doubt from Maksim, whispered a word in her mother's ear, and Katga's triumphant shout could have been heard three blocks away.
Every one in the room caught the electric signal of good news, and the excitement began to boil. The conditions were ripe and the moment had some for a wild debauch of religious frenzy. Devils had been driven out, there was the exhilaration of triumph, and a saturnalia of religious intoxication was about to begin.
The noise became more deafening as the chanting continued. Men embraced each other, springing into the air and gesticulating wildly. The shrill voices of women arose above the pandemonium. Here and there under the stress of excitement overwrought nerves became unstrung, muscles began to "jerk" involuntarily, and the whole room became an insane arousal. Old Mother Shuben collapsed, a young woman "overcome of the spirit" fell prone in a corner, and the limit of strained endurance was reached when a stalwart member, locking arms with a brother behind his back, lifted said brother and threw him bodily over his head, stretching him full length on the floor and nearly breaking his neck.
There was a pause. The incident, which was so nearly an accident, recalled the revelers to their senses, the ghost dance ceased, the doors were opened, and the excitement calmed down. The people, exhausted, but happy, hurried into the open air and wended their way home. The devils had been chased away. Maksim and Natasha were to be married by the elders, and Eden was once more calm.