This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 6, 2012.
In his 65 years, John Angell Grant had never been interested in marriage. He grew up watching his parents endure an unhappy union, and bachelor life had always been satisfying for the Palo Alto Daily Post theater critic, who is working on his master’s in liberal arts at Stanford.
Grant said he had dated women here and there, some relationships lasting a few years, but “marriage was never something I thought I wanted.”
Yet in a single night – a night spent dancing, drinking tea and talking on the couch until 3 a.m. – Grant changed his mind.
It was March 6, 2010, and Grant accompanied a friend to a dinner party at the home of Martha Sellers Klein, a Palo Alto lawyer whom he had met a few times over the years and whom he had always viewed as “up on a pedestal.”
Klein, now 54, was an admirer of Grant’s work and of Grant himself – but they had both been in other relationships during most of their acquaintance, and she always saw him as “off limits.” Her marriage had ended 15 years earlier, and she had worked to accept the idea that, even if she never married again, she could still have “a wonderful life.”
Despite her optimism, Klein had had a difficult year. She lost her mother – the person she took vacations with and confided in – to Parkinson’s disease. Her dinner party, coincidentally, fell on the one-year anniversary of her mom’s death.
While preparing dinner, Klein overheard Grant tell another guest that he had ended his most recent relationship.
“I almost dropped the whole dinner on the floor, I was so excited,” Klein said.
After dinner, the group attended a concert where Klein’s boss and his band were playing. Grant was the only man in the party, and he danced with each of the four women. Still, when Klein was dancing with him, she thought she felt a connection.
After the show, around 9 p.m., she invited the group back to her house for tea. Only one person accepted the invitation.
Grant and Klein sat on her couch and talked about everything – “childhood, relationships, work, literature, art, films,” Klein recalled. Soon, they found themselves holding hands.
Klein discovered that Grant was writing his Stanford thesis about T.S. Eliot. She had written her own undergraduate thesis on Eliot years earlier.
Grant discovered that Klein’s mother, who was widowed at a young age, always said she “just wanted a man who would take her dancing.” Grant loved to dance and wanted a partner to take dance lessons with.
“By 3 a.m. I knew we were going to get married,” Klein said.
Grant remembers it a little differently. “At 3 a.m. she kicked me out,” he laughed.
He called her the next day, a Sunday, hoping to see her again, but much to his surprise, Klein turned him down.
“I needed a few days to digest what was happening,” Klein recalled. “I was emotionally overwrought. I thought I’d be single for the rest of my life.”
Undeterred, Grant asked to see her again on Tuesday. She agreed. On Thursday, they started living together.
In the next year, Klein attended plays with Grant, and they did take dance lessons. They traveled to Big Sur together, listening to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” on the drive. They had dinner overlooking Bodega Bay, and Grant recited a full William Butler Yeats poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” to Klein from memory. He called the poem “magic.”
“I was honestly speechless,” Klein said.
But in February 2011, when it came time to ask the question they both knew was coming, Grant did not turn to classic poets for inspiration. He simply got down on one knee at Klein’s house while she sat on the same sofa where they’d had their six-hour conversation. He presented her with a ring featuring a diamond her mother had given her and spoke from the heart.
“She’s a goddess,” Grant later said of Klein. “Martha is somebody many of her friends regard as the best human they know. She’s kind, generous, fun, high energy. I’m still in the pinch-me phase. It’s a miracle.”
The couple said “I do” at Stanford Memorial Church on April 14. Their wedding party – 19 bridesmaids and 13 groomsmen – was one of the largest the church had ever accommodated. One hundred and fifty more guests filled the pews, including family and friends spanning all phases of Klein’s and Grant’s lives.
Klein designed her own wedding dress – which Grant was not allowed to see until the wedding day – and after the wedding party’s grand processional, Grant and Klein walked to the altar hand in hand. Klein blushed when the minister told Grant he could kiss his bride.
The reception that followed at the Stanford Faculty Club featured a Southern feast of fried chicken, cornbread and mashed potatoes and gravy, reminiscent of Klein’s North Carolina childhood. And Klein’s boss and his band played Beatles and Rolling Stones songs, just as they did on the couple’s first date.
Before the wedding, Klein and Grant assembled three 40-by-60-inch photo collages to hang on the wall at the reception. They featured photos of every wedding guest – a visual blending of all the important people in their lives. After the wedding, Klein said, they plan to hang the collages on the wall in their house – in a place not far from the couch.