For almost a century, they've shared the same smile, the same eyes, the same habit of finishing each other's sentences without even realizing it.
But now that Engla Christensen and her identical twin sister, Thora Peterson, are about to celebrate their 95th birthdays, there is something that they don't want to share: the same cake.
"We're going to have two parties," says Engla. "Because we're twins," adds Thora. "Two parties is twice as much fun as one."
Their children and grandchildren are hoping they'll hold another big bash in five years when they turn 100, but the sisters wanted to have twin parties this year. Just in case.
"My family wants me to make it to 100, but you never know," says Engla. "It's been a wonderful life," says Thora, "but to tell you the truth, I'm ready to go. Ninety-five years is a good deal more than I bargained for."
Eager to share what it's been like to have an identical best friend all their lives, Engla and Thora recently joined me for a Free Lunch of soup and bread sticks at Thora's small apartment in a South Jordan retirement center.
Engla still lives at her home in Taylorsville, although she recently sold it to her granddaughter and her husband. "I live upstairs, they live downstairs and my daughter lives next door," she says, "so growing old hasn't been so bad. There's always somebody to check in on me."
Her sister for one. With their eyesight and health now failing, Thora and Engla can't get together face-to-face to complete each other's thoughts as often as they used to. But they talk daily on the telephone, even though they are both hard of hearing.
"If I hear it ring, I pick it up," says Thora. "And if she doesn't hear it, I just keep calling," says Engla. When they start speaking to each other in Danish, she says, the years melt away.
The twins were born on Oct. 15, 1912, in Silkeberg, Denmark, where they grew up riding bicycles around town with their parents and five siblings because their family couldn't afford a car. Their mother dressed them in identical outfits and tied their hair with identical bows, "which made it easier for us to trick our teacher in class," recalls Engla.
Early one morning in 1940, the sisters, who were then 28, heard planes flying low over their little town. Looking out their windows, they saw Nazi soldiers marching in straight columns through the streets.
"It was frightening," says Engla. "Absolutely," adds Thora. "Everybody knew their lives would change." Germany would occupy Denmark for the next five years. Prior to the invasion, Engla had befriended an LDS missionary from Montana, who she corresponded with until 1946.
When the war was over, she became Alvin Christensen's "mail-order bride," moving to Montana to help him and his brothers run a large dairy farm. Thora followed soon after, settling in Salt Lake City, where she was married and widowed twice.
It wasn't easy, living apart from her twin sister for so many years, but the pair made up for lost time as soon as Engla moved to Utah in 1973. Until recently, the duo took the bus downtown once a week to search for hidden treasures at thrift shops and reminisce about their younger years over lunch.
Now that they've slowed down their step a bit, Thora spends her days playing the piano and writing stories, while Engla prefers to crochet and follow the Utah Jazz.Sometimes, Engla will call Thora to fill her in on the latest basketball gossip, or Thora will call Engla to share a new poem. Half the time, they can't hear each other, "but that's OK," says Thora. "Just knowing she's on the line," says Engla, "is enough."
Have a story? You pick the topic, I'll buy the lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to [email protected]. You can also write me at the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.