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Carbon copies: Twins in San Luis Obispo County

One way the parents of 4-year-old twins David, left, and Mario Luera of rural Paso Robles can tell them apart is to serve tomatoes. Mario refuses to eat them.
One way the parents of 4-year-old twins David, left, and Mario Luera of rural Paso Robles can tell them apart is to serve tomatoes. Mario refuses to eat them.

When Joan Beightler stood on the stage next to game show host Bob Barker, the producer of “The Price is Right” sensed something fishy going on.

“Stop taping!” he called out, confusing the audience. “She’s been on before!”

While plenty of contestants had come and gone, he remembered this face. After all, it’d only been a couple of months — and she had won the Showcase Showdown.

Before they could kick Beightler off the show, her sister, Jeanne Schrader, stood up in the audience and said, “No, no — that was me!”

Of course, one can see how the producer would be confused. As identical twins, Beightler and Schrader look so similar they even throw their own family members off — which is why they were often just called “Twin” growing up.

“They never called us Joan and Jeanne,” said Schrader, 52, of Morro Bay. “And I don’t think our dad could ever tell us apart.”

As we enter the astrological period of Gemini — represented by the twins symbol — we thought it’d be a good time to talk to local identical twins. After The Tribune published a short story seeking local twins, more than 70 pairs responded, representing a variety of ages. Despite that range, many of the twins had similar experiences.

But first a little about identical twins: Also known as monozygotic twins, they result when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote, which divides into two separate embryos. Identical twins have nearly the same DNA, but environmental influences throughout their lives can create physical and behavioral differences. Identical twins are frequently studied to determine how nature (qualities we are born with) and nurture (qualities that come from personal experience) affect us.

While increased exposure to environmental factors will create variety in older twins, it’s still hard to tell the difference between 80-year-old twins Claire Chase and Clara White.

Not that they want to be totally alike.

“I don’t want to look like her,” White says, joking. “She’s old.”

The jovial pair, who both live in South County, were born in Rhode Island — hence their East Coast accents. While they had three other siblings, like many twins that contacted The Tribune, their bond with each other has always been special.

“If there’s a third person, that doesn’t work,” White said, noting that another sister, who lives in Paso Robles, often feels left out around them. “She says when she goes with us, she might as well be alone, because we stick together.”

Schrader said it’s the same in her family, which includes two other sisters.

“They said that they wished they had a twin,” she said, “because we talked and shared things differently than we do with them. We love them, but we’re just not as close.”

And how could they be? Twins are so tightly connected, they have shared countless experiences through their lifetimes.

In Schrader’s case, she and her sister got married three months apart, had children three months apart and for a while lived a block apart. Like other twins, they grew up sharing clothes, friends, toys and even a language some call twinspeak.

“We always mumbled,” said Scott Menges, a true Gemini who turns 22 on Saturday with his twin, Peter. While no one else could understand his mumbling, he said, “He heard me just fine.”

The San Luis Obispo twins were so alike, friends called them both “Scopeter.”

“We’re pretty much exactly the same,” Scott acknowledges with a smile.

And that thing where twins feel each other’s pain hundreds of miles apart? Some twins swear it’s true.

“When I had my baby in Rhode Island, she had the labor,” Chase said.

“I did,” White added. “The night she had her baby, I was sick in bed with — I didn’t know what it was. And then her husband called and said, ‘Claire just had her baby,’ and I said, ‘Thank God,’ and I was all better.”

With such a tight bond, twins often have difficulty separating. So when White and her family moved to California in the 50s, her sister said she cried for hours. At the time, her husband ran the MJ Chase Company — a doll-making business his grandmother started — and couldn’t leave.

“Sometimes I’d pick up the phone and call her, and she’d be on the line already,” White said. “And we’d buy the same clothes even though we were separated.”

It took nearly 30 years, but the twins were together again once Chase’s husband stopped working, in 1979.

“The day he retired, we packed up,” said Chase, who lives in Grover Beach.

Now that their husbands have both passed away, the twins are making up for lost time.

“Free at last,” joked White, who lives in Oceano.

Schrader and Beightler were apart for 20 years. But now they not only live less than 10 minutes apart, they also both work at Cal Poly, where Schrader works in university housing and Beightler is in human resources.

Being separated, Beightler said, forced them to be individuals.

“It was weird because we didn’t know how to be different,” she said.

Even a simple thing like going shopping for clothes, her sister said, became much different after they were apart.

“Because we’d go shopping together, and I’d go, ‘You go try this on so I know what it looks like on me.’ I never needed a mirror.”

Cause for concern

For the parent, the announcement of expected twins can cause concern. After all, everything you expected to do for one child suddenly gets doubled.

“It was an overwhelming feeling,” said Amy Luera, a Paso Robles mom who gave birth to twins Mario and David, now 4. “I was working full time, and we wondered: How are we going to afford two babies at once?”

Every couple of weeks, they had to spend $100 at Costco buying diapers. But while having twin babies was tough, as the twins aged, they began taking care of each other.

“If Mario gets something, he automatically gets something for his brother,” Luera said. “Or if one gets hurt, the other comes running in right away.”

The two never have to worry about playmates, and they’re so in tune to each other, they even go to the bathroom at the same time.

“They’re just on the same clock, I guess,” said their father, Gil, as his sons played on the floor a few feet away.

For two weeks after they were born, Amy kept bracelets on them, so they could tell who was who. Now the parents can usually tell them apart — “Mario, his head is slightly rounder,” Amy said — but if in doubt, all they need to do is offer food.

“Mario absolutely refuses to eat tomatoes,” Gil said.

Shared interests

Like the Luera boys, the Menges twins also spent a lot of time playing together. An early love of Legos and connector sets grew into a fascination with cars — especially after their mother bought them their first set of wheels, a ’68 Plymouth Valiant.

“We tore it all apart and put it back together,” Peter said.

The two shared cars during their days at San Luis Obispo High School. And after graduation, they worked at the same car shop. For the last nine months they have co-owned Menges Twin Customs, working primarily on cars from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

They spend up to 10 hours a day at the shop, never arguing. Standing near a stripped-down 1934 Chevy, the two are visibly content with each other — just as they were throughout their childhood and teen years.

“We had a lot of friends,” Peter said. “We just didn’t hang out with them a lot.”

Pranks, twin-style

Being good-humored, Chase and White have always been known to pull a few fast ones. Sometimes one would get on a bus at one stop, and the next would get on at the next to throw off the driver. Or as soon as one would go into a restaurant door, the other would come out, creating an optical illusion.

“You know what we did when I was having my baby?” White began. “She put on my smock with a pillow under it and went to the baby shower. And my mother didn’t even know it!”

“I had the whole shower — all the gifts — and nobody even noticed,” Chase added. “And then she came in.”

And, of course, boys were not immune to their pranks.

“If you had one date and you didn’t like him ” Chase began.

“Then we’d switch,” White finished.

Oh yeah — that’s another thing about twins.

“When she and I are talking,” Beightler said, sitting next to her sister, “I only have to say part of a sentence and then she —“

“I finish it,” Schrader said.

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