These twins love aging well the same way
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The identical twins came as advertised, still sweet, sharp and funny at 96, still finishing each other's sentences.
Helen Zientek and Frances Vincent, both widows, now live in Shaler with Helen's daughter Sue, but their fame stretches farther. They showed off the gold medal they won as the oldest twins among more than 1,700 paired siblings who visited Twinsburg, Ohio, the weekend of Aug. 6.
They were there for the Twins Days Festival, where research scientists arrive to determine what makes twins tick, and twins just want to have fun.
Twinsburg, a suburb halfway between Akron and Cleveland, owes its name to identical twins Moses and Aaron Wilcox, who bought 4,000 acres there in 1819 and offered six of them for a public square and 20 bucks to start a school if the settlers would change the name to Twinsburg. An origin that quirky warrants a unique event.
"It's fantastic," Mrs. Vincent said, showing me a photo from the festival of her and her sis with a matched pair of infants, the youngest twins at the event. "You can't imagine seeing twins everywhere you look. Some from England, the Philippines ..."
"... and Japan," Mrs. Zientek said.
"Name it, they're there," her sister finished.
These two don't act the way I've seen 96 before. They don't use canes or walkers, and they joke easily and often about what it means to reach their age.
"All the girls that were better-looking than us," Mrs. Zientek said, "they look worse than we do."
They grew up on the North Side, in the neighborhoods of East Allegheny and Troy Hill, as the Peck twins, the youngest of six children.
They still head down to St. Peter Parish for the 5 p.m. Mass each Saturday, the last parish standing among the half-dozen or so they knew as girls on the lower North Side, and they still dance effortlessly if a Frank Sinatra imitator sings in the church basement.
Why not a church closer to home?
"We know who sits where ...," Mrs. Vincent said.
"... and who says hello," Mrs. Zientek added.
Why the Saturday Mass?
"Because we're Jewish," Mrs. Zientek quipped.
These sisters like making laughs happen. This column thus far may have it looking like Mrs. Zientek does most of the talking, but that's not the case. Mrs. Vincent, the first-born -- Twin A in twinspeak -- is the undisputed leader.
"I'm the boss," she says. "I'm A. She was always shy. She didn't know how to pay for a fare until she was 21." (Frances always paid the bus driver when they were kids.)
"Who's twin A?" -- that's the big question of Twins Days, says Chester Zientek, 62, who has taken his mom and aunt to the festival the last three years. When this great swarm of twins isn't hugging or posing for pictures, they're asking each other who is Twin A.
As celebrities in Twinsburg, the nonagenarians turn up in a lot of photos and get to ride in the back of a Mustang convertible in the parade. Mr. Zientek said he took about 30 shots with his own camera and three or four times that many with other people's.
The sisters showed me in succeeding photos how they'd first pose with one other pair of twins, then four, then eight, then 15 or 20 as more twins gathered around them. When I asked to borrow the photos, Mrs. Vincent said, "Throw them out when you're done."
Her pet peeve is seeing ancient photos running with obituaries. Touching a wrinkle above her smiling face, she said, "Every one of these means something."
A widow for 11 years, Mrs. Vincent has two children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A widow for 51 years, Mrs. Zientek has three children and two grandchildren. Some in the succeeding generations, knowing Mrs. Vincent's feelings about obituary photos, kid that they'll use one of her as an infant on a bearskin rug when the time comes.
The sisters didn't want photos with this column, but among the ones Sue Zientek shared was a stunning studio shot of the sisters at 16, dressed to the nines. They still look like they could beat the 700-million-to-one odds of twins reaching their 100th birthday together.
Don't count on it, both say.
"Fifteen minutes of glory is enough for us," Mrs. Vincent said. "I don't want any more."
First Published August 18, 2011 12:00 am