Montana twins celebrate 90th birthday

By Liz Kearney
Yellowstone Newspapers 

Livingston residents may not know their names, but they've probably seen "the twins" around town.
They're Alma "Dickie" Foss and Alva "Happy" Carlson, always distinguishable by their identical outfits. And while their outfits may be identical, they're not. Foss and Carlson are fraternal twins.
Foss and Carlson celebrated their 90th birthday Aug. 17, with family hosting a bash at the Park County Senior Center.
And yes, people frequently stop them to ask, "Are you twins?" Carlson said. When they visit Yellowstone National Park, people stop them and ask to take their photo. Or to pose the twins for a photo with their own twin children. The women, tack-sharp and quick to laugh, chatted about their lives  at their Livingston home. 
The sisters, both widowed, share a home on South Ninth Street. Carlson's daughter Lorraine Lende owns the house and lives in a house on the same lot. Carlson has lived there for about 20 years, Lende said. Foss moved in six years ago.
"I came with just my suitcase," Foss joked.
They dress identically every day, just like when they were children. They wear the same sizes, right down to their shoes. Even when they were adults with their own lives and only saw each other once or twice a year, they always had an identical outfit they could wear when they were together.
They enjoy all the conveniences of modern life, mentioning specifically their washer and dryer. Their mother, they recalled, had to wash clothes by hand. The twins have two freezers, which friends and family keep stocked with game - deer, elk and fish, which they both enjoy. They have a microwave oven.
They don't have cell phones. Two corded phones are visible in their home. A modest-sized television occupies, but doesn't dominate, their tidy living room, and the walls are decorated with family photos.
But there's one concession to the 21st century in the room - a computer. Foss said it's not connected to the Internet, and neither of them use email. Foss likes it because a relative brings her old-time music that he downloads to her iPod.The computer sits on top of an antique oak Singer sewing machine.
Early life
The twins were born in 1922 near Big Sandy - "just a little stop in the road," Foss said - between Great Falls and Havre. Their parents were German, but met in Montana. The twins spoke German at home, learning English only when they started school. They continued to speak German among themselves, especially when they didn't want anyone else to know what they were saying, Foss joked.
Foss's nickname, "Dickie," comes from a German word that means "fat," Foss said. "So I must have been the fat one and Happy the happy one," Foss said.
They lived on a homestead about four miles out of town. Their father raised wheat and hay and helped care for a herd of nearly 250 cattle. The twins, who were the youngest of seven siblings, were the last two children at home - and they did a lot of chores that would have otherwise been considered boys' work if they had had brothers still at home.
During the summer months, the girls were often responsible for rounding up the cattle and taking them to the river for water every day, a 10-mile round trip. While the cattle drank, they fished and hunted for chokecherries and service berries, Carlson recalled. On the homestead, they also milked cattle, fed the chickens and cut firewood. During the school year, they shared their horse, Socks, doubling up and riding bareback to school, four miles each way.
In the winter, they sometimes got snowed in - or out - of town. Getting snowed in in town was preferable because they could hang out with their friends and there was less work to do, Foss laughed.
They remember going to dances, usually at the local schoolhouse, when they were young. Their father would load everyone up in a lumber wagon. The twins still love to dance.
They graduated from high school and later married. Foss and her husband did not have children. Carlson had four children and was married three times.
"They all died young," she said. Foss' husband worked in construction, so they moved frequently, following work. Foss often took restaurant jobs in the towns, where her husband worked. Carlson's husbands worked in dry cleaning and the railroad, which brought them to Livingston in the late 1950s.
At 90, both twins are cancer survivors. Cancer seems to run in the family, Foss said, since her father and several siblings had it. 
Twins run in the family, too - 10 sets at last count. Carlson had a set of twins herself, daughter Joanne Barthuly of Livingston and son Jim Eller. 
Neither twin drives anymore. Carlson said she gave it up about two years ago.
"I think when you get this old, you ought to quit (driving) before you hurt someone," Carlson said.
But they have family nearby, daughters Barthuly and Lorraine Lende, who are available to drive them wherever they need.
The twins enjoy good health. They work a small garden in their backyard. Still-green tomatoes hang heavy from their vines in the 
backyard. They often go for walks.
"We go to all the yard sales on Saturday, and get some exercise," Foss laughed.
"Not that we need anything," Carlson added.
Both enjoy spending time at the Park County Senior Center. They play pinochle there Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, and they go to the senior lunch at noon nearly every day.
The twins said they don't hold the secret to long life. But Foss, the older of the twins by two-and-a-half hours, jokingly offered her take on longevity.
"We never drank or smoked, and the only thing we like to do is dance," Foss said.
" I guess we were just supposed to" live a long life, Carlson added.
And what about the next 10 years and celebrating their 100th birthday?
"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing and keep moving," Foss said.
"You gotta keep moving," Carlson added.

Published August 29, 2012

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