Given her protective attitude, you would never know that Alice Clarke is younger than her sister, Mabel Dawe.
But it is, about two minutes away – that’s what they were told, anyway. And after 100 years of being together, it’s obvious the identical twins have taken on specific roles in their long relationship.
The twins – born Alice and Mabel Janes – have just celebrated their 100th birthday and I was invited to Alice’s house to listen to a century of stories.
More family members than I expected greeted me at the door, excited about the television debut of the “nans,” as they call them.
As I walk in, Alice and Mabel are sitting side by side in chairs, their heads tilted together, talking directly into each other’s ears. I would learn later that their hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be.
But just like deer, they raise their heads in unison.
The family helps arrange the furniture for the interview, the camera is set up in front of them, and the bright studio lights make their eyes twinkle.
“What memories do you have? Mabel yells at Alice.
“What!?” Alice yells back.
“What memories do you have? Mabel screams again.
I’m sitting away from them, wearing an N95 mask that muffles my voice. I dare not take it off but I realize that this interview could have its challenges.
An unmasked family member who is in their bubble steps in to shout all my questions at them from a shorter distance.
We start with the basics. Their father was one of the first to settle in paradise, and the women were born in their childhood home on March 26, 1922.
“I chased her away,” says Mabel – that is, I chased Alice out of her mother’s womb.
no easy life
Right off the bat, women want me to know that their childhoods were tough and unlike anything we can imagine now.
A hundred years ago there was no electricity in their house. They spent their days chopping wood, picking berries, milking cows, and making all their own clothes.
At 100, the Janes twins haven’t lost their sense of humor. Look here :
They had 10 siblings and later several half-siblings.
“We were cold, we were poor, but we were happy,” says Mabel. “People did it too well today. That’s the problem: they have too much.”
They’ve been through 100 years of history and their minds are sharp enough to remember it – like living through WWII. The sisters remember a handful of Heaven’s Men sent overseas, including their brother, Bill, who was in the Navy. But like so many others, he never came home.
“We never had radio or TV. We were scared to death, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Mabel said.
They can also remember when Newfoundland joined the rest of Canada. In fact, Alice worked as a poll clerk for the first election after Confederation. And they remember the impact: a power line being installed through Paradise and life just got a little easier.
“I’m surprised to be as old as I am. I never thought I’d see 100,” says Alice.
But their fondest memory? The answer is simple for Mabel.
“When I got my moose license…we hunted moose a lot.”
We have to stop for a moment, as a high-pitched scream comes from Mabel’s hearing aid – the batteries need to be changed.
“When I look at her, I don’t see a 100-year-old grandmother,” said Corinna Kennedy, Alice’s granddaughter who lives with her in Paradise. “But when you really sit down and think about it, it’s pretty amazing.”
Kennedy knows how unlikely two of them lived to be 100.
“[But] I’m not surprised they made it together, not at all.”
They outlived all of their siblings, husbands, some of their own children and even a grandchild.
“Nan always says to me, ‘How come I’m still here? Why am I still here?'” Mabel’s granddaughter Jacqueline Penney said.
Both families say they are lucky to have had them for so long.
“Hopefully now we’ll see 101. … You never know, god, how they’re doing now,” Penney said.
After 100 years, the sisters still know each other. They call each other regularly and their families arrange visits.
“Look back and laugh at the good times, forget the bad times – that’s the only way to take it,” Alice said.
Patting Alice on the thigh, Mabel said, “Tell him about the boots.”
Alice explains that her father had to sell a pig to get the money to buy them each a pair of boots – a red pair and a black pair.
Although each girl was assigned a color, one day they decided to swap one boot from each pair – both flashing black and red with each stride as they walked proudly to school.
At 100, they are individuals, with different personalities and lived experiences, but like two pairs of boots, they merge into one.
“I can’t turn around and go to someone else’s house, another friend’s house and it would be the same if it was her,” Alice said.
“There’s a bond between us that we won’t forget.”
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