I look in the mirror and see uniqueness, a singular blueprint that confirms I am alone in this world. Peggy and Patsy Terry see each other and know they are not alone. They venture through life sharing identical thoughts, wearing identical clothes and moving in patterns that the rest of us will never see or feel. They look at and feel each other in a way that confirms and challenges both the idea of sameness and differences.
After 29 years of living on opposite sides of the country, Peggy sets the table with her twin sister Patsy for their nightly dinner ritual in Alhambra. The 81-year-old sisters talk as one and often finish the other's thought, and sometimes I feel like I am talking with a single person. Peggy Ingram and Patsy Terry are once again enjoying an intense bond that is only known to identical twins. “It is a feeling that “she” is there and I am part of her and “she” is part of me, and I am never quite alone in that sense,” Patsy said. “It is different than marriage and it is a bond. It is truly a gift. “
I have long been fascinated by some of the urban myths about twins: they feel each other's pain, know what the other is thinking and have an intense bond that borders on the telepathic. I wanted to find out for myself what being a twin was all about so I started my search for identical twins for this story. In a stroke of good fortune, I was told by one of my friends that I had already met an identical twin, Peggy Ingram. I interviewed Peggy's husband, Rod, for a previous story on his war time experiences during the Battle of the Bulge and met Peggy during the interview. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Peggy had an identical twin sister and that both of them wanted to share their story.
Patsy and Peggy Terry were born in a maternity home in Chico, California during the Great Depression. Monozygotic or identical twins are formed from a single fertilized egg that splits into two parts resulting in the development of two embryos. They have the same DNA and differ from fraternal twins that share 50% of their DNA. The birthrate for identical twins is about three in 1000 births. No tests for twins were available so upon their birth their father was sent running to get another set of baby clothes and diapers. Like many twins they were dressed alike and given identical dolls and toys.
Since ancient times identical twins have been seen as a gift from the gods and an important window into what makes us unique. Roman mythology believed that the twins Remus and Romulus were the founders of Rome and that identical twin males were a blessing. Scientists and researchers today believe identical twins play an important role in understanding how much our lives are predetermined by our genes or by our environment in the ongoing debate of nurture versus nature.
For the Terry twins, their twinship had a profound influence on their childhood and sense of identity. They grew up as a single unit completing tasks together and being virtually inseparable. Throughout their schooling they shared school offices such as president of various clubs and even graduated as valedictorian together with identical grade point averages.
It was upon graduation that the subject of separation became an issue. Both sisters resisted the idea of attending different colleges. But their older sister felt that they needed to learn to operate independently and develop their own identities as they entered adulthood to face the world. Patsy decided to major in international relations and attended Stanford. Peggy majored in home economics and went to Davis. “It was extremely hard for both of us and we were both upset to be apart,” Peggy recalls. “We alternated taking the Greyhound every weekend and that helped us get through this time.”
Reflecting on this period of separation Patsy thinks that it did help her develop into a more independent person. “Going into a new situation I was always the shyer of the two and depended on Peggy to make new friends,” she said. “It was a growing period for me because I had to do things on my own while I was at Stanford.” Peggy also felt that going to college without Patsy gave her more confidence to do things alone.
During college both twins met their future husbands. Patsy married Conrad von Bibra, who would go on to be an oil executive, and the couple settled in South Pasadena in 1961. Peggy married Rod Ingram while he was attending veterinary school at Davis and later became a professor of animal physiology at Louisiana State University. Patsy and Peggy agreed that they both married men with a lot of self confidence and this was important to them: “We think that anyone who did not have a sense of worth would have a hard time being married to a twin because they would be in another plane and could not share our bond.” said Patsy.
For decades, Patsy and Peggy were able to keep their unique bond even though they lived on opposite sides of the country. Both sisters had three boys and two girls that were in the same sequence and born within a couple of months of each other. Each would unknowingly buy the same dress or call each other at the same time. They now meet at church every Sunday only to discover that they are wearing the same color or the same dress. They are unable to explain these strange coincidences, but acknowledge they can know what the other is feeling even when they are apart.
The Terry twins have settled into their former routines from childhood of doing everything together. Whatever chore or activity that needs to be completed, it is done by both of them. “To this day when she has a job at the church or cooking," Peggy says, "we do it together.