The year I graduated college, I had an admirer who wanted desperately to marry me (maybe because no one else in their right mind would marry him). When I turned him down, he came up with Plan B, I should marry his best friend, Anson Saltonstall Howe, III. I admit that while Anson was not the most attractive suitor, tall and gawky, he was a scion of at least two of America’s leading aristocratic dynasties and could be considered a “catch.” He was an artist, a painter, which ostensibly gave us much in common, but marriage to him meant my becoming an “artist’s wife,” a situation I was determined to avoid. His parents owned a dilapidated brownstone on West 14th St. in New York City and Anson used the front parlor as his studio. Most of the family money had disappeared by then (drink and lack of financial acumen) and all that was left was the name, but what a name! I have to admit I would have loved to shop at Saks 5th Avenue and see the look on the salesgirl’s face when I asked that my purchases be sent to Mrs. Anson Saltonstall Howe, the Third. (me!)
Soon after I met Anson, he proposed marriage. He didn’t believe in “beating around the bush” (those were his very words). Did I want to be his wife or didn’t I? Aside from my not finding him physically attractive (a BIG drawback) I would have ended up being an “enabler. He was a pretty good painter “in the style of Rubens,” he said. He ground his own pigments and prepared his canvases the way Rubens did, but that’s where the resemblance ended. He was a social realist who painted meticulous street scenes extolling working class life. Unfortunately, Social Realism and Working Class Life was no longer in style, having been passed over for giant canvases of slop known as Action Painting or Abstract Expressionism. Anson didn’t care; he had found his niche. What he needed now was a “wife” who would pay the bills so he could go on working without any worldly cares; the trust funds having run out. I had a steady job as an art teacher, summers off; I was reasonably attractive and able to hold my own in artistic discourse. Perfect! (at least from his point of view) Not so perfect from mine.
I never saw Anson after our first (and only) date, although he did call me a couple of times to inquire whether I planned to marry him. When I declined, he didn’t seem too surprised. While he thought he wanted a wife, he would, as the old joke goes, “he wouldn’t know what to do with one if he caught it.” Maybe I should have married him, gotten a quickie divorce and kept the name. In retrospect, however, I think I did O.K. with Kahn.