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Spinster twins Bessie and Dessie kept the men guessing

By BILL WHITAKER

Even at age 90, spinster twins Bessie and Dessie Klepper can wear a fellow out faster than your everyday, ordinary curmudgeon.

Although Abilene's most vintage old maid twins attribute their long lives to "the Lord, three square meals a day and a good walk every morning," I wouldn't be surprised if being totally contrary - and for the sheer joy of it - has also had something to do with it.

No wonder no one's ever dared write about this pair before. If one of the Klepper twins wasn't threatening me, the other one was.

During the course of what one might only liberally call an interview, the two switched off playing "good cop/bad cop" on me. First Bessie refused to have anything to do with me and only Dessie would answer questions, and when she did Bessie got onto her.

Then, in a move I almost failed to notice, the twins slyly switched places and Bessie began answering questions and Dessie refused to talk.

ONLY THE DOG KNOWS

To complicate matters further, they really are hard to tell apart. With most twins you can usually pick up on something about one - a distinguishing blemish, a weight difference, a skin hue - but Bessie and Dessie look so much alike I'm told many of their kinfolks can't tell one from the other.

"Even their daddy couldn't tell," Jan Tally said of the twins and their father, a Callahan County rancher and one-time deputy sheriff. "He lived with them from the day they were born till the day he died, and he never could tell 'em apart."

"Our great nephew's little dog is the only one that can tell us apart," Dessie volunteered at one point.

A family friend later explained this is because Bessie feeds and pets the dog while Dessie shows it disdain at best. Anyway, if kinfolks want to know whether they're talking to Bessie, it helps to have the dog around because it'll cotton to her.

Considering the above, it may surprise you to learn I'd been invited to the house on Grape Street - a home they've lived in 51 years now - during what appeared to be a very lively birthday party attended by friends and family, including their 85-year-old sister, Pearl Roberts.

No sooner had I entered than Pearl beseeched me to put a photo of Bessie and Dessie into the newspaper, so the spinsters might finally be married off.

Old photos reveal the Klepper twins were a fetching pair in their youth. Ask why they never got married, though, and you open up another can of worms.

"Well, it isn't any of their business," Dessie told me, "but I guess nobody wanted a couple of ugly, red-headed girls."

Bessie, however, confirmed what some of the other kinfolks told me - mainly that the Klepper sisters have never been able to resist the urge to mix things up. Maybe that's a natural drive when you look exactly like someone else in West Texas.

At any rate, the girls would occasionally pull switcheroos on their dates, so an innocent suitor (or even one not-so-innocent) was never quite sure which girl he happened to have with him. This reportedly created enough havoc and embarrassment for suitors that the girls stayed single all their lives.

WOMAN'S WRATH TIMES TWO

If the girls created a lot of nonsense in their girlhood, they certainly refused to tolerate it from others. When they were 6 or 7, they became so mad at their cousin Perry who broke their dolls they put him in a tow-sack, set fire to it and threw it over a barbed-wire fence.

At least, that's what kinfolks say - and the spinster sisters do nothing to discourage the story.

Supposedly some parents on the scene at the time put out the fire and rescued the lightly singed boy. But word of that kind of thing will get around, especially if you're in Callahan County, and so the girls have always represented a frightening challenge for the opposite sex.

This much we can tell you. The twins did volunteer they were born Nov. 30, 1906 on a ranch north of Clyde during a snowstorm, that they each weighed a pound and a half at birth, and that Bessie is the oldest, by about a half hour.

"Daddy put both of us in a shoebox for a bassinet," Bessie said.

Besides themselves, they had a brother and sister who were twins and their mother was a twin.

I also understand they've been members of Emmanuel Baptist Church for 64 years, that they both worked in department stores much of their lives (Bessie at Lintz, Dessie at Minter's) and that, as contrary as they are, their kin relish them because there's never a dull moment when they're around.

"It was a precious time," Dessie said after all the company left and their 90th birthday bash came to an end. "But then every day is precious to us - and we enjoy it."

Bill Whitaker, who understands the Klepper twins each got a dollar for every year of their lives and are now expecting their kinfolks to do the same next year, can be reached at 670-5293, ext. 325. Or you can e-mail him at WTWARN@aol.com.

 

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