Given her protective demeanour you’d never know Alice Clarke is younger than her sister, Mabel Dawe.
But she is, by about two minutes — that’s what they’ve been told, anyway. And after 100 years of sisterhood, it’s obvious the identical twins have taken on specific roles in their lengthy relationship.
The twins — born Alice and Mabel Janes — just celebrated their 100th birthday and I’ve been invited to Alice’s house to listen to a century’s worth 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 bowed together, talking directly into each other’s ear. I would later learn their hearing is not as good as it once was.
But just like deer, they pick their heads up in unison.
The family helps arrange the furniture for the interview, the camera is set up before them and the bright studio lights make their eyes twinkle.
“What memories do you got?” Mabel yells at Alice.
“What!?” yells back Alice.
“What memories do you got?” Mabel yells again.
I’m sitting away from them, wearing an N95 mask that is muffling my voice. I don’t dare take it off but I realize this interview might have its challenges.
An unmasked family member who is in their bubble steps in to yell all my questions at them from a shorter distance.
We start with the basics. Their father was one of the first people to settle in Paradise, and the women were born in their childhood home on March 26, 1922.
“I kicked her out,” says Mabel — kicked Alice out of her mother’s womb, that is.
No easy living
Off the bat, the women want me to know their childhood was difficult, and unlike anything we could imagine now.
A hundred years ago there was no electricity in their home. They spent their days chopping wood, picking berries, milking cows and making all their own clothes.
They had 10 siblings and, later, several step-siblings.
“We was cold, we was poor but we were happy,” says Mabel. “People got it too good today. That’s what the trouble is: they got too much.”
They’ve made it through 100 years of history and their minds are sharp enough to remember a lot of it — like living through World War II. The sisters recalling a handful of Paradise men being sent overseas, including their brother, Bill, who was in the navy. But like so many, he never came home.
“We never had no radios, no television. We were scared to death, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Mabel.
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: an electricity line being installed through Paradise and life getting a little bit easier.
“I am surprised to be as old as what I am. I never thought I would see 100 years,” says Alice.
But their happiest memory? The answer comes easy for Mabel.
“When I got me moose licence … we done a lot of moose hunting.”
We have to stop for a moment, as a high pitch squeal comes from Mabel’s hearing aid — the batteries need changing.
“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 and think about it’s pretty amazing.”
Kennedy knows how unlikely it is that two of them have lived to 100.
“[But] I am not surprised they made it together, not at all.”
They’ve outlived all their siblings, their husbands, some of their own children and even a grandchild.
“Nan always says to me, ‘How come I am still here? Why am I still here?'” said Mabel’s granddaughter Jacqueline Penney.
Both families say they’re blessed to have had them around for so long.
“Hopefully now we will see 101.… You never know, b’y, the way they are going now,” said Penney.
After 100 years the sisters still have each other. They regularly call each other and their families arrange visits.
“Look back over it and laugh at the good times, forget the bad times — that’s the only way you can take it,” said Alice.
Tapping Alice on the thigh, Mabel says, “Tell her about the boots.”
Alice explains her dad must have sold a pig to get the money to buy them each a pair of boots — one red pair and one black pair.
Although a colour was assigned to each girl, one day they decided to swap one boot from each pair — the two of them flashing black and red with every stride as they proudly walked to school.
At 100 years old, they’re individuals, with different personalities and lived experiences, but like the two pairs of boots they blend into one.
“I can’t turn around and go to somebody else, to another friend and it be the same if it was her,” said Alice.
“There’s a connection between us that we won’t forget.”
Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador