Last Saturday, in the clubroom of the French Quarter apartment complex off of Burnet Road, twins Ernestine and Earleen Lott celebrated their 90th birthdays. Born in 1922, the twins have lived in Austin in side-by-side apartment complexes for the last six years. While family chatted and ate cake, the twins mingled and reminisced. A slide show of black and white photographs of them played on the television.
“It’s been a nice life,” Earleen said in an earlier interview.
“It has, sister,” Ernestine agreed.
The twins were born in the small town of Groveton, Texas. Ernestine’s daughter, Clair Jordan, said on the day the sisters were delivered, curious residents who knew their mother was expecting twins lined up outside the Lotts’ house and stared into the windows of the home. Earleen said the twins’ father eventually “got the nurse from Houston and the baby doctor from Livingston,” and her father, the nurse and the doctor “cleared them all out, all the people.”
The birth was even more exciting than the spectators expected. Instead of twins, the sisters’ mother gave birth to triplets, all girls. Together the three babies weighed only seven-and-a-half pounds. The doctor was quick to give up on the girls once he saw their size.
“[The doctor] said they weren’t going to live. He wasn’t going to waste any more time on them,” Jordan said. The doctor wasted so little time on them that two decades later, when Earleen and Ernestine went to get married, they discovered they had no birth certificates. The doctor hadn’t bothered to file them.
Despite what the doctor had said, the girls’ parents weren’t giving up on them. The sisters’ grandmother put the girls in an apple box and stuck it behind the furnace, where the girls would stay warm. The three girls initially bucked the doctor’s prediction, but in the winter of 1923, Esteen came down with pneumonia and died.
Earleen and Ernestine carried on. The two “had fun, even during the Depression,” which hit their small town hard. Both of the girls graduated from Groveton High School in 1940. Their mother insisted that the twins dress alike until they graduated, which they adamantly opposed.
“We had a fight every morning,” Ernestine said. But their mother always won: “In the last few minutes before the bus came, we would change and dress alike,” she said.
Now they dress decidedly differently. Ernestine wears big hoop earrings and unembellished sweaters while Earleen likes rhinestones on her jackets and her jewelry. Both are “still having trouble getting used to the relaxed dress code of Austin,” Jordan said.
Soon after graduating, both sisters married. Both of their husbands were deployed to fight in World War II, and Earleen’s husband left the day she gave birth to their first son, Robert Lynn Witt. It would be three years before her husband would return. When he did, Earleen told him, “Don’t you come home without that uniform,” because “that’s who my son knew him as.” When her husband walked up the road to their house, her son recognized his father from a photo in which he was wearing his military clothes.
“He yelled, ‘That’s my daddy!’” Earleen said.
For most of their lives, the sisters lived apart from each other, with Ernestine in Nederland and Earleen in Pasadena. Twenty-two years ago, Ernestine, who now goes by “Teen,” moved into her current apartment in Austin. Because she swims everyday and has a sprightly look to her, the residents of her new apartment complex believed her to be decades younger than she actually was. Ernestine never corrected their assumption. But when her sister moved in next door to her six years ago and told everyone she was 90-years-old and Ernestine’s twin, Ernestine couldn’t deny her age any longer. She doesn’t mind people knowing her age anymore.
“You know, we’ve been so lucky. We’re 90, and it doesn’t seem like that because we go and do things,” Ernestine said. “We like to shop ... and we have card-playing, and I think we stay as busy as we want to be.”
“I think we’ve had a very good life,” Ernestine said, and Earleen nodded.
Printed on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 as: Seeing double as twins turn 90