Twins: the pleasures of coming two by two

There is something enchanting about twins. The closeness and sharing and the sometimes tandem reactions are touching. There is also something rather haunting. Particularly when the twins are adults, it is unnerving not to be able to tell them apart --to make them into separate people.

"Twins On Twins," written and photographed by identical twins, Frances McLaughlin Gill and Kathryn McLaughlin Abbe, captures the sometimes dizzying pleasures of coming two by two.

"We think twins are the only thing to be," says Vivian Brown, twin of Marian, in a dialogue from the book. "We have known each other since we kicked in the crib."

Some twins become so obsessed with their double identity that the end result is a loss of individual identity.

"We are twins first, individuals second," says LaVona Rowe, twin sister of LaVelda."We believe we are being individuals by being alike, as we are doing what we really want, and not what society says we must do."

Although the book mentions several recent studies on twins, it is not a weighty examination of such data. "Twins On Twins" offers simple vignettes and folklore in doses that are educational and enjoyable.

Twin folklore includes the tales of Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollox, and Esau and Jacob. A chapter on twins in art features paintings from several centuries. An exploration of twins in other cultures tells how twins are revered in some societies. And there are charming old daguerreotypes in the exploration of twins in photography.

But by far the most captivating and lively section of the book is the one on "Twins Now." The authors, talented photographers, catch the feeling of each distinct set of twins in both the photos and the text, which records conversations with the subjects.

Rocio and Yarmilla Aragon, students at Sarah Lawrence College, are dancers. The photos exude a feeling of two woodland sprites. Their conversation, which bounces from dancing to shyness to relationships, has the same taste. Like many other twins, they talk about the special bond between twins.

"It's a feeling of complete comfort and trust you know will always be there," says Yarmila.

Samuel and Emmanuel Lussier, who at 100 were listed as being North America's oldest living set of twins in the 1978 Guiness Book of World Records, smile in front of a Christmas tree. Although they live separately, they obviously enjoy their reunions. Said Samuel at one such meeting: "I'm home now. Home is where my twin brother is."

Some twins are insistent that they lead separate lives.

"If I were a parent of twins, I would not dress them alike," says Tim Gullikson, a tennis pro: "I would encourage independence in them -- not to pursue the same interests but to do things on their own."

But there he is with twin Tom on the tennis court, dressed exactly alike, with almost an identical expression on his face.

Many of the twins interviewed continue to do things together as adults. Faye and Kaye Young are pro basketball players. Peter and Paul Frame are ballet dancers. Marilyn and Rosalyn Borden are singer-dancer-comediennes.

Some twins thrive on their identity as twins. LaVelda and LaVona Rowe and their twin husbands, Arthur and Alwin Richmond, do practically everything together. The men proposed in unison and the women answered in unison. The wedding vows were in unison, and the newlyweds had a double honeymoon in Canada. Now they live together in a three bedroom house and share a joint bank account.

But not all twins like being categorized as one unit.

"I understand why people confuse us, but I still don't like being called Allan," says Jeff Kausch, who works with a professional balloonist.

His brother Allan, who works in a bookstore, agrees: "I don't like being called Jeff and being looked on as a set."

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