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DOUBLE TAKE IDENTICAL TWINS DELIGHT IN SWAP OF IDENTITIES; WATCHERS ARE LEFT GUESSING.

Byline: BETTIE RENCORET Senior columnist

LANCASTER - Identical twins Norma Jenkins Teague Stuart and Shirley Jenkins MacGragor have always had that close physical and emotional bond that most twins have, but theirs extends a little farther.

They also have a kind of extrasensory perception that allows them to feel each other's pain, perform the same acts on the same day, and know each other's thoughts.

That happened often as they were growing up and remains true in their senior years.

Even though Norma lives in Lancaster and Shirley in Citrus Heights, about 20 miles out of Sacramento, it's no surprise to either when they meet after a separation, without verbal communication, they have chosen matching outfits.

They were born in Phoenix, Ariz., Nov. 29, 1934, and at 18 months won a look-alike healthy baby contest there. They moved with their parents and two older brothers to Waco, Texas.

Being identical came in handy many times as they were growing up, and they frequently took advantage of it.

``Our teachers all thought of us as those nice little Jenkins twins, and here we were switching classes and doing all kinds of stuff like that,'' Shirley said.

During their high school years in Waco, they weren't allowed in the same classes, but for one of them they did have the same teacher. Once when they were both out sick, she gave them a poetry memorization assignment.

``I was always a good student so I learned all of it. Norma didn't, so when the time came I recited it once, then I went out in the hall, came back in, identified myself as Norma and said it all over again,'' said Shirley, laughing. ``I don't know how come I got elected to learn the stuff and she didn't, but we got away with it.''

Their 50th class reunion is coming up in 2003 and when they go back they'll try to dress the same on the mixer night for the nostalgic benefit of their former classmates.

When they took jobs after graduation, they still dressed alike and thoroughly confused their bosses, co-workers and customers at Southwestern Telephone Co., where they were twin tellers.

``People would take one look at us and think they were seeing double,'' said Norma with a laugh.

They weren't above switching on boyfriends but sometimes they got caught. On a double date once they decided to change places with each other because Shirley liked Norma's date better than hers.

``Sometimes we express our individuality in different ways,'' said Shirley. ``That night I was wearing a silver bracelet and Norma wasn't. The boy I started out with was pretty observant and noticed the bracelet, so part way through the evening he figured out he was with Norma instead of me. He wasn't too happy about being tricked like that.''

They had a double wedding Aug. 27, 1955, in the Calvary Baptist Church of Waco. While their husbands were not related, there were certain uncanny similarities. Each, for instance, had only one brother, one named Andy and the other named Randy.

``Our gowns and headpieces were exactly alike. We bought one and had it duplicated,'' Norma said. ``We wanted everything the same.''

After the wedding they went separate ways for the first time. Shirley remained in Waco until her husband, Robert, was released from the Air Force, and Norma moved to Austin, Texas, where her husband, Weldon, was enrolled in the University of Texas.

Norma and Weldon had four daughters. Shirley and Robert had two girls and three boys. None of the progeny are twins.

``We went back to work at the telephone company after we were married, and when we were pregnant alike that really turned heads,'' said Shirley.

Their husbands died four months apart, Weldon Teague on Oct. 30, 1994, of lung cancer, and Robert MacGragor Feb. 26, 1995, from diabetic complications.

After they were both widowed, they took trips together and that old telepathy showed up again on a European tour. While they were traveling on a double-decker bus, Shirley's purse was stolen.

``I was on the top deck and Norma was below because we hadn't been able to get seats together. When we went to get off I discovered my purse was gone. It held my money, credit cards, passport, everything,'' said Shirley. ``I was just sick. It was going to cost me $75 to replace all my papers and I didn't have any money to do it with.''

``From the beginning we were traveling on a tight budget,'' said Norma, ``but before we left home and I was getting money out of the bank, I just had a feeling so I got out some extra cash.''

``It was the exact amount I needed. Can you believe it?`` finished Shirley, ``And when we had to go through customs, we just used Norma's passport twice. The officials didn't know the difference.''

When Norma remarried on Jan. 3, 1998, it was to Robin Stuart, a former roommate of Weldon who had dated Shirley before her marriage. Shirley, gowned in burgundy, was Norma's matron of honor.

``She looked lovely in that color and we didn't think much about the connotation it might have until we heard one of the guests say `Oh look! The bride's wearing red,' '' said Norma, laughing.

Robin, when asked if he had any trouble telling the girls apart, said with a smile:

``Not now as a general rule. They were different personalities and when you were interacting you pretty well knew who you were interacting with.''

He held out a picture.

``You can see in this picture they have different expressions on their faces. But when they wanted to make it difficult for you they'd get quiet and you couldn't tell the difference.''

Both still have a Texas accent although they've been gone from there for several years. Even on the telephone they sound alike.

``But we're mirror image look-alikes,'' said Shirley. ``I'm left-handed and Norma's right-handed. The right side of my face matches the left side of hers. You can tell us apart if you look carefully.''

Shirley is now a part-time assistant preschool teacher and loves it.

Both twins are active in their respective churches: Norma at the Lancaster United Methodist Church where she and Robin were married by former pastor Robert Stimmel, and Shirley at the 3,000 member Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Citrus Heights.

< Menus for the week at the senior life nutrition sites in Lancaster, Palmdale and South Valley have been announced. All meals include bread, margarine and coffee, tea or milk for a donation of $2.

Monday: Hamburger patty, potato salad, parsleyed carrots, tomato, onion, lettuce, orange.

Tuesday: Lemon chicken, sweet potatoes, green beans, marinated beets, pineapple juice, ice cream.

Wednesday: Turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes, Normandy vegetables, cranberry and orange salad, pumpkin pie.

Thursday: Thanksgiving holiday.

Friday: Thanksgiving holiday.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Identical twins Shirley Jenkins MacGragor, left, and Norma Jenkins Teague Stuart share a physical and emotional bond.

Bettie Rencoret/Special to the Daily News

(2 -- 3) The Jenkins twins, at 21, above, hold baskets for some of the identical gifts they received at their double wedding in 1955. At left, Norma, left, and Shirley, at 2 in front of their grandparents' home in Waco, Texas, in 1937.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 19, 2000
Words:1214
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