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Whatever synergism might energize specific sets of twins, the hard fact is that there have been relatively few over-achievers who came in pairs. Among the exceptions: F.E. and F.O. Stanley, who invented the celebrated Stanley Steamer automobile in 1897 and went on to build the Stanley Rocket, a machine that in 1906 set a world speed record by traveling 127.66 mph to become the first car ever to travel faster than two miles per minute. Jean Felix and Auguste Piccard, pioneers in aeronautical engineering and ballooning, were identical twins. Thornton Wilder was a twin. And so are Pauline Esther and Esther Pauline Friedman, better known as Dear Abby and Ann Landers. So, too, are the late Shah of Iran, Maurice and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, Norris and the late Ross McWhirter, who created the Guinness Book of World Records, and the late Elvis Presley, whose twin brother died at birth.
In sports, we have Mario and Aldo Andretti (Aldo retired from car racing after an accident in 1969); Tim and Tom Gullikson, who rank 52nd and 63rd in the world in tennis; Faye and Kaye Young, who played for the New York Stars in the defunct Women's Basketball League; Marlin and the late Mike McKeever, who starred together in football at USC in the 1950s; Takeshi and Shigeru Sou, world-class marathoners (personal bests of 2:09:49 and 2:09:56, respectively) from Japan; Dick and Tom Van Arsdale of various NBA teams. In-fielder Brian Doyle of the Oakland A's is a twin—his brother, Blake, plays in the minors—as is Pitcher Rawly Eastwick of the Chicago Cubs. There is even a theory that Jim Thorpe was a twin, though this is a little-known fact. His brother Charles died in boyhood. And, of course, there are Phil and Steve Mahre.
They are, says their mother, fraternal, not identical, twins—"just two brothers who happened to be conceived at the same time."
The difference between a set of identical twins—monozygotic is the scientific term—and fraternal or dizygotic twins is that identicals are conceived from a single egg fertilized by a single sperm while fraternals are the product of two eggs fertilized by two sperm. Monozygotics have precisely identical genetic "wiring." They occur about once in every 270 births, fraternals approximately once in every 150, although estimates are unreliable since the incidences of twin births vary from country to country. Keith suggests that from his observations—totally superficial and at a distance—the Mahres could well be identical twins. "Doctors make mistakes," says Keith. "My brother and I thought we were fraternal twins for 40 years before we had blood tests and learned that we were, in fact, identical. Unless the Mahres have had blood tests, maybe they shouldn't assume they're not identical." The Mahres have had no such tests.
Phil and Steve fall in the middle of a big family that includes four older siblings and three younger—nine children in all. With wives, husbands and various offspring—including the girl that Steve's wife Debbie gave birth to on Dec. 29—there are 22 in the Mahre clan. Mary Mahre, a sweet and patient woman of seemingly endless good cheer, says without a trace of treacle, "Dave and I are the luckiest parents in the world. All of our kids are of above-average intelligence. They've been class leaders, valedictorians, homecoming queens, Girls State and Boys State. Phil was salutatorian in his class and Steven was fifth. Not one of our kids is a failure, not one is a burden."
However, there aren't any mega-millionaires, movie stars or budding Nobel laureates among the Mahres. They are, in fact, the epitome of the kind of admirable—if vanishing—American middle-class family that is content with modest circumstances and salt-of-the-earth values. There has never been much money around the Mahre household—and nobody seems to care very much. Dave Mahre, a slim, talkative fellow, has been mountain manager at the White Pass ski area in the Cascades of Washington since 1962. It is a job that demands mechanical skill, a job that pays a modest salary, a job that he took only because he had failed at farming the apple and pear orchard he owned in Ellensburg near the Yakima Valley, where he grew up.
"I cried the day I quit farming," says Dave, and there are tears welling in his eyes as he speaks. "But there wasn't enough food on the table to feed six or seven youngsters. I had been working as a ski patrolman at White Pass to bring in a little something extra. Then they offered me the mountain job, and we moved. And, living up here, this family has seen and done things we never would've thought possible. You're looking at a very happy guy. It's not the monetary return that makes me happy. God knows that. If I had a lot of money, I'd probably give it away." Tears are streaming from behind his thick spectacles, and he says, "I don't try to keep things inside me. These are happy tears. I've had a hell of a good time. This is one of the few places in the world where the American Dream is not dead."
The family has lived its version of the dream in a small, rather cluttered house that it doesn't own—the White Pass management does. It's situated perhaps 30 yards from the main chair lift up the mountain, even closer to the maintenance garage where Dave repairs SnoCats. There's almost nothing up on the pass except the lodge, the lifts and a few establishments to house and/or feed skiers. The Mahre kids went to school in Naches (pop. 710), 40 miles down a long, curving mountain road, a 90-minute schoolbus ride each way. Nothing has been easy. "The foundation of this family is self-reliance," Mary says. "We take care of ourselves. We never have had much, but we never sponged. We dressed the kids out of Lost & Found at the lodge. Why, we lived out of Lost & Found some winters. We don't care what people think of that, but, you know, it would kill me if I ever took a food stamp. I don't mind the Lost & Found, but to sponge off other people, other taxpayers, that would just kill me."
So that's where they come from, these remarkable twins. Lost & Found. From the start, they were always together—sort of alone together—in the crowd that was their family. "They were like one person," says Mary, "part of the family, sure, but really more a part of each other. They never bickered, never. Everyone else was constantly squabbling, and the twins would fight with the others, but they were always together. You know, I think they even kind of mothered each other. They were the only ones in the family who never brought their school papers home to me when they were little. They would show them to each other and that satisfied them."
They began skiing when they were six, showing no great talent for two or three years and then suddenly becoming demons in small-fry ski races. Later, they blew everyone out of the Buddy Werner League races that were held at White Pass beginning in the mid-'60s. Eventually, they were the only two who could compete with each other. "They were always one-two," says their mother. "They pushed each other. One year Steve won everything. But Phil didn't seem to mind. They were still inseparable."