In many ways they are polar opposites, as different as North and South, their lives divided by the Mason Dixon Line. One is the consummate mother, wife and gardener, her laundry done, hair parted straight, thoughts quiet and ordered. The other is a consummate hostess, house full of people, dog on the loose, hair flying, calendar cluttered, a poet who scribbles her lines at all hours with whatever writing implement is at hand. And despite all these differences — or perhaps because of them — Rose Styron and Lucy Hackney are also fast friends.
Interviews by Sam Bungey
Lucy: Of course Rose had cocktail and dinner parties as far as I could tell every night, as she does now.
She knows everybody.
She manages to stay connected, that’s the thing that’s remarkable. Friends move somewhere then slowly but surely drift off. But not with her. She uses the telephone a lot. She remembers everyone’s names. She’s a good friend.
And she gets up at five. How can you be a poet when as far as I can tell you’re never still? She’ll write a poem on the beach. She’ll ask has someone got a pencil and start writing on any old paper.
I can’t think of anyone who lives life to the fullest [like she does]. Sometimes she exhausts me to the point of — Rose, I can’t do that. But she’s has this energy that’s exhilarating.
I see her in the summer at some point almost every single day.
It was the second summer I think and we invited Bill and Rose to come and have supper, it wasn’t gong to be any big deal. I think I made spaghetti. I was a student at the time — beer and cheap wine is what we served.
Rose calls up after five and says I have an extra guest staying I wonder if he can come. I said, “Who is it?” “It’s Frank Sinatra.”
He was very gracious, but he looked at whatever we were giving him in terms of liquor and he called the people on his boat in the harbor and they came up the stairs to our little apartment with huge things of gin. Then Bill and Frank both wanted cigars and they got on the telephone to Cuba. Those were the early days of beginning of getting to know the Styrons.
I don’t know when she sleeps. Sometimes in a car she’ll doze off. Most people would have drool coming out our mouths but she manages to look beautiful. She’ll do it at her own dinner parties.
Bill and Sheldon were friends first. Bill’s book [The Confessions of Nat Turner] was controversial at the time, all sorts of black readers and writers were coming out against him and I think he felt beleaguered. Sheldon, being a Southern historian, had read it and thought it was a terrific book. So I think Bill was so happy to have someone who didn’t think he was a racist Southerner.
It became a back and forth family friendship.
I’m much more domestic than Rose. I think sometimes she gets a little irritated with me. She’s like, why can’t you do that Lucy? Well, because I had to do the laundry!
I once shared a flight with Rose that she had arranged on a small plane. As we were coming in to land I asked what are all these fire engines doing? The pilot said we’re not sure if we have the wheels down. I was just in a panic. I asked what are we going to do? And he said we’re going to swoop to see if they can tell if the lights out ... Meanwhile Rose is totally cool and repacking her case.
She’ll just get in any plane, with anyone, if it’ll get her where she wants to go.
She had older brothers and was a hellcat girl.
She was incredibly generous with things, with parties, and with just affection for people she cares about. And she guards the people that she loves.
Rose: We were both involved in the politics of our time. We lived through the summer of ’68 together, which was a time of great turmoil and tragedy. And we talked about everything in the whole world. I guess talking to each other and laughing is what a real connection is.
And Lucy and I were raising small children and we got to know each other’s mothers — they came to visit that summer — so it was a multi-generational thing right away.
She went off to law school and became a children’s advocate. I joined Amnesty International and began a 40-year career as a human rights activist.
Our children became friends. They all have as different careers as Lucy and I but they all connect. Everyone’s happy on this Island in the summer.
Lucy’s a real anchor, for her whole family. I’m probably more of an observer and an enjoyer. I’m pretty reckless and she’s not at all, so that’s good for me. I don’t know if it’s good for her.
I’m not religious at all. I was brought up as a Quaker and it morally and socially formed me but it wasn’t a religious thing. She’s a very good Christian. We talk about it. I think spiritually we’re very close.
I can’t think of any big disagreement we’ve ever had.
The Kennedys used to come over every year and see Art Buchwald or me and the kids used to come and sleep on our lawn with my kids and Lucy’s kids. So it became a big family event.
I went to my first convention with Lucy and Lucy’s mother [Virginia Durr]. She was a big southern political leader so she took us.
I met the Clintons at Lucy’s place. Lucy was working with Children’s Defense Fund and I went with her to Washington a couple of times after that as a guest and observer.
She is certainly more disciplined than I. She usually got home on time, took care of all her friends and was good about her obligations. She went to church. Her life was organized. She makes sure she has a lot of lunches and dinners alone with Sheldon.
We shared Thanksgiving as ritual. Lucy and I were always trying to fit in as much fun or beach as possible when we weren’t in our kitchens. I remember one year we had put the turkeys in the oven and thought we had long enough to go to off to South Beach; we went off in my little Peugeot. But then the car wouldn’t start. We had to hitchhike back; we had quite burnt turkeys and cross husbands.
Bill was a great cook to and he made Smithfield ham on holidays. On one occasion he had it all ready to go on the kitchen table and came in to carve it, looked and said, Where’s the ham? And I said well it was right here and the platter’s still here. And well we looked out in the garden and there was our dog, Aquinnah, out by the hedge among the flowers, upside down with four paws up in the air, eating the ham. Bill went into a rage, the likes of which you have never seen, and he was ready to get a kitchen knife and kill the dog. We got the dog to run over to the Hackneys and Lucy hid the dog for several days until Bill got over it.
What I loved and still love about Lucy and what attracted me to her aside from our mutual interests, political leanings and involvement in family, is that she had a wonderful quiet. She has a great palate and a wonderful vegetable garden. She was a real homemaker. Our whole family became devoted to her because Lucy was the perfect hostess mother, a caregiver, who always found time for lots of fun and games.