Each Thursday morning, Norma Matthews and her twin sister, Edith Antoncecchi, carefully style their hair and sometimes put on coordinating outfits. Then they catch a lift to a church in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Golden Heirs musical hour for seniors.
The identical twin sisters turned 100 in December and have become celebrities of sorts in the area since they were featured in the Tampa Bay Times, Edith said, who insists that people call her “Edy.”
The sisters draw attention wherever they go, said Margaret Shaffer, a neighbor who often drives them to the musical hour. “Edy is more quiet, and Norma is the chatty one,” she said. “If you take them to a restaurant, Norma is gone — she has to get up and talk to everyone.”
“But they both light up the room,” she said.
The twins, born on Dec. 23, 1921, when Warren G. Harding was president, have had plenty of peaks and valleys in their lives and endured a scandal of their time.
They were born in Revere, Mass., five miles outside Boston to Italian immigrant parents, Norma said. Their father left their mother for another woman when the girls were 13, and their mother took a job in a shoe factory to pay the bills.
“When he divorced our mother, other kids avoided us like we had a disease,” Norma said. “It was considered a scandal.” That was in part how they developed their tough skin. They decided they didn’t need the other snobby kids, added Edy, who is the older by a few minutes. “We made our own fun.”
She and Norma dressed alike, played pranks on their teachers by switching classes and helped look after their little brother, John. “We didn’t have it easy, but we had a lot of fun,” said Edy, recalling how they put on plays and puppet shows, and shared secrets, wardrobes and the same brass bed.
When their mother remarried, boys had to ask permission to take them on walks because they weren’t allowed to date, Norma said. But after high school, when she became a hairdresser and Edy went into nursing, they each met somebody they wanted to marry.
“For the first time, we’d be living apart,” Norma said. “So we decided it was important that we always lived as close as we could to each other.”
When she married Charles Matthews on Valentine’s Day in 1943, and Edy married Leo “Chick” Antoncecchi three months later, they settled near each other in the Boston area for 51 years.
Norma raised three children and spent many years mourning a daughter who had died at age 2, a crushing blow. Edy experienced a similar agony four years ago when one of her two sons died.
“Edy was always there for me, and I was always there for her,” Norma said. “Whenever I’d get sick, Edy would somehow know. She’d call me up or come rushing over to make sure I was okay.”
Edy’s husband, Leo, died in a car accident in 1994, and Norma’s husband, Charles, died of Alzheimer’s disease several months later. Bereft, the sisters decided that a change of scenery would help them heal. They moved to Florida in 1995, where they again live under the same roof — this time in a mobile home park.
Although they are both in good health, they no longer drive and instead rely on the kindness of friends and neighbors, Edy said. “They give us rides to church and the grocery store,” she said, adding that Norma does most of the cooking.
Norma said she cooks healthy meals such as baked salmon and poached eggs on toast, but the real secret to the siblings’ longevity is “no drinking, no smoking and living a clean life so we’ll go to heaven.”
Their commitment to their Christian faith has helped guide their life choices, they said. “There’s only up or down, so forgive others and keep clean for your own sake,” Norma said. “Edy and I have done our best to take that to heart.”
Norma’s son, Chuck Matthews, said he’s not surprised that his mother and aunt have endured for more than a century.
“My mom’s an alpha female and Auntie Edy is happy to follow,” said Matthews, 69, who lives in Derry, N.H. “They read each other’s minds and take care of each other.”
For their 100th birthday, more than 50 relatives flew to St. Petersburg to honor them at one of their favorite Italian restaurants, he said. The rousing lunchtime celebration was followed by a long nap, Matthews said.
While Edy is more reserved in public, she holds her own with his mother, he noted. “Sometimes I’ll call and you’ll hear them arguing in the background,” Matthews said. “I’ll say, ‘Why are you fighting?’ and they’ll say, ‘Who’s fighting? We’re not fighting — we’re talking!’ ”
“It’s all part of their special connection,” he added.
The sisters rely on each other so much, they said, they’re not sure one would survive long without the other. With all that history, they said, how could they?
“We really feel that one can’t depart without the other,” Norma said. “I’d do anything for Edy. She’s my everything.”
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