My Ohio: Seeing Double

Memories of three decades as a Twins Days Festival volunteer.

I can’t tell you how many freckles I have counted on faces during the past three decades. Thousands, probably. Now I leave most of the freckles, the comparison of missing front teeth and the close scrutiny of hairstyles to the current judges of the Twins Days Festival Twins Contests every year.

In 1976, the City of Twinsburg decided to recognize local twins as well as Moses and Aaron Wilcox, twins who donated land for a public square in the 1800s. No one realized then that the event — begun as a way to celebrate our country’s bicentennial — would grow into the largest annual gathering of twins in the world. (About 2,500 sets of twins are expected this year.) I helped judge twins in the early years and now my “official” title is Medals Coordinator. I award the winning twins their Olympic-like gold-, silver- and bronze-colored medals, assist the judges and act as a sidekick to the contests’ longtime emcee, Jim Szymanski.

At this year’s 35th Annual Twins Days Festival, August 6–8, I will also assure upset parents that their little twin daughters are beautiful, even if they didn’t win a Most Alike Contest. I will juggle two crying babies in my arms while Dad looks for the contest/registration packet buried in a stroller. I will stare at an insensitive mother screeching at her twins that they should have placed first in the contest, not “just” second. I will double check with a ruler that the twins from this little town in Alaska actually came from farther away than the twins from that little town in Alaska so they get a gold medal.

What happens onstage may seem chaotic at times. But the contests have evolved into a much-loved event and the number-one reason some twins attend the festival. There are few prouder parents than parents of two, few siblings so protective of each other than twins. I have seen twins grow from infants to young adults and adult twins who grow old together, but whose dedication to each other is unshakable. I have watched twins marry twins on stage.

I still marvel at triplets and quadruplets who defy nature’s reproductive odds just by being alive. And I cry with twins who lose a sibling, but who return to Twins Days to be among those who understand best.

I have also learned a few things in the 33 years (I missed two years!) that I have volunteered to help with the contests. A handshake and Purell after I congratulate the winners is just fine, thank you. One year I had a terrible viral infection and the best infectious disease doctors in Cleveland were baffled. Surely, they said to me, you must have recently traveled to northern Africa where this disease is spreading like an epidemic. No, no, I assured them. Then I suddenly remembered that I kissed winning twins from Egypt a week earlier. 

I have also learned to be more aware of the customs of the media who come from all over the world to cover Twins Days. Once I told a Japanese film crew that they “must stay” in a roped-off media area so as not to interfere with twins walking on and off stage. When the film crew did not move for an hour, even during a break in the contests, I asked the photographers if everything was all right. Yes, they said, but they thought it would be “rude” to leave even after they had taken their video because I hadn’t told them it was OK.

This year’s festival theme is “Twins Days Roundup.” Country music will float above the midway, many twins will dress in western apparel, and floats in Saturday morning’s Double Take Parade will be disguised as covered wagons. But I have a confession: I have never seen the parade.

That’s because I arrive early and stay at the contest amphitheater to help set up judging stations, answer questions posed by anxious parents and greet twins and their families from far and near who have become my friends.

Maybe someday I will see the parade. But not this year.

I have 576 medals to award.

Sagamore Hills writer Jill Sell is a not a twin, but her mother was.