Appreciation: Rose Styron remembers her friend, Lucy Hackney

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It is the case at Rose Styron’s home that a picture, or two or three or four or more, is worth a thousand words … as they record many moments of a half-century of friendship between Rose and Lucy Hackney. And while a discerning eye can tell that they enjoyed being in each other’s company, the memories of those years become even more vivid and vibrant as Rose talks enthusiastically about them as if they were yesterday. For Rose and Lucy were close in so many ways, while also being different in many others. But Rose remembers that she and Lucy clicked from the first time they met. Close then was a few yards away, in a bed and breakfast that Lucy and her husband Sheldon had rented on their first visit to the Vineyard. The Hackneys had been told by the noted Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, who had mentored both William Styron and Sheldon, that when they got to the Vineyard, they needed to meet Rose and her husband William, a.k.a. Bill.

And those early times are full of delightful memories, like the time early on when Lucy invited the Styrons to dinner. At the time, Sheldon was working as an assistant professor at Princeton, and they were living on his salary, so the servings were modest: Lucy cooked a spaghetti dinner no doubt flavored by her Southern roots, and while not wine connoisseurs themselves, they also were offering wine, similarly modest. Now Lucy’s Southern roots were on full display: A friend of the Styrons called to say he had just sailed into the waters near their house and wanted to know if they could have dinner. Rose remembers calling Lucy to ask if they could bring the friend. Without knowing who the friend was, Lucy immediately said, “Of course.” And when he showed up at the door a short time later, Lucy was awestruck, for it turns out it was Frank Sinatra. And, as Rose remembers, Sinatra, being Sinatra, took one look at the not very expensive wine and called back to his boat and asked his mate to bring over a higher quality. But, Rose remembers, “Lucy was unfazed.”

As time went by, the Hackneys and Styrons stayed close — literally and figuratively, for in time, the Hackneys bought a house diagonally across from the Styrons, with a large field between them, and Rose remembers that Lucy was “a fabulous gardener.” And to be sure, that garden blossomed all summer, in carefully crafted synchronization, so that whenever one group grew weary and ceased to flower, another appeared in its place. But Rose remembers the garden was more than a hobby for Lucy.

“It was for her a Zen Buddhist retreat,” Rose recalled. “It was there that she meditated.”

Not Rose’s cup of tea, for she says that Lucy was also a Christian, and while Rose’s moral values were derived from her upbringing as a Quaker, Rose deferred to Lucy on religion, saying, “Lucy really loved church and was full of genuine faith, which of course, I was not. “

Rose also says Lucy took housekeeping seriously, but she didn’t. And Rose went on to say, “Lucy was very organized, and orderly and quiet. Just the opposite of me.” Yet Rose, a poet, could compose a poem in between swimming with Lucy on the beach in front of their houses. Also, over the years, while the men in their lives bonded with long conversations on the porch overlooking the dock, Lucy and Rose bonded in many other ways, including on the tennis court adjacent to Rose’s lawn, and down the hill past Lucy’s field of flowers.

“We were the perfect pair,” Rose remembered, continuing, “Lucy was very tall with long arms and long strokes, and I was short, so I played the net.” Their partnership on the court led them to competitions with neighbors, including the the columnist Art Buchwald and Robert Brustein, the theater critic, playwright, and producer.

And the women often won. Rose remembers a time when they had a competition they called “The Hate Cup,” a play on a tennis trophy called a loving cup. And the prize was, whoever won got to ask a favor of the losers. And on this occasion, Rose and Lucy lost the match and the favor the men asked was that the women clean their houses. Undaunted, Rose recalls, “We went out and bought maids’ uniforms and and caps and got the noisiest cleaning equipment we could find, and around midnight we went to Artie’s and made so much noise in his living room that Artie crept down the stairs in his bare feet to see what was going on. But when he learned that this was the favor he and Bob requested, and that we were going next to Bob’s house, he insisted on coming along.

“Well, the noise scared Bob, and when he came out of his bedroom to see what was going on, he was very grumpy for a while, but he got over it and we all had a good laugh.”

In addition to tennis, Rose and Lucy loved long walks on the beach, and also full moon picnics with their wide coterie of friends. “Lucy loved those, and always brought something she had baked.”

But Rose remembers one long walk that led to trouble. It was on Thanksgiving day, and each had put their turkeys in the oven and decided to head to Squibnocket Beach while they roasted. Only as they were leaving the beach, they discovered that Rose’s Peugeot wouldn’t start, and they had to walk miles to the road to hitchhike back to Vineyard Haven, by which time the turkeys in both their ovens had burned.

“We fed everybody burned turkeys,” Rose remembers, finding it easier to laugh about it now than back then, when some who shall remain nameless were not happy at all.

In time, Lucy got her law degree and honed her politics, true to the calling she inherited. Her parents were Cliff and Virginia Durr, civil rights activists in the ’50s, during which time Cliff Durr was among the lawyers who defended civil rights legend Rosa Parks after her arrest for sitting in the all-white section of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., a move credited with launching the civil rights movement. Lucy’s mother, Virginia Durr, picked Parks up from jail and took her to their home.

Rose remembers Lucy introduced her to politics, and took her to her first Democratic convention.

And by the time Rose became involved with Amnesty International, Lucy had gone to work with the Children’s Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to the needs of children, especially the poor and underserved. “Lucy was always an advocate for children,” Rose remembered.

Rose also witnessed up-close the love between Sheldon and Lucy, who were married for 56 years. “They were always in love, and never looked at anybody else,” Rose remembered.

And while laughter was a big part of their friendship, they also shared and supported each other in the sad times, when both husbands died, as well as the Hackneys’ daughter Virginia. Rose would only say of those times that they were “fraught with pain,” but their friendship helped them weather those times.

And then there were the children who bonded during all those years: Lucy’s three, Fain, Elizabeth, and Virginia and Rose’s four, Al, Susannah, Paola, and Tommy, and all remain friends to this day.

May they continue their journey together, with lessons from their mothers on being the best kind of friends.