They are tallish, spare and almost laconic men. Certainly, 350 years of pragmatic New England roots, courtesy of their mother, Barbara Flanders, is part of it.
For Doug and David Seward, there is another reason. They are identical twins. “Mirror twins” as Doug puts it. They don’t need to talk much though they’re working at talking more, so other people are included in their often soundless dialogue.
They have lived 61 years as intuitive brothers, raised as crickers, a term for Menemsha Creek youth of a certain age.
Because they lived in a beautiful place at the tip of a beautiful Island, the bigger world came to them and taught them more than you would expect kids to learn in a two-room schoolhouse.
Mostly, they learned gratitude for their lives and the importance of all their relationships.
Interviews by Jack Shea
No one had any idea there were two of us. Dougie was born at 7:30 p.m. and I came at 7:33 on March 5, 1947.
Dr. Nevin had a date on the weekend in New Bedford and he wanted that baby to be born. He had my mother drink castor oil and walk the hills in Menemsha. It worked.
I don’t think you could find a better place to raise a kid than Menemsha in those days. It was a storybook childhood but we didn’t understand that because it was all we knew.
The whole community looked out for you.
For example, Lenny Jason was a big figure in our lives. He was a “can do” person. We wanted a skiff, Lenny overheard us and asked us how much money we had. I think we had $47. His boat, The Little Lady, came back from New Bedford with this 14-foot, big heavy skiff on deck two weeks later.
It leaked like a corn basket. He said, “Before you guys can use this, I gotta fix it up a little bit.” He put it on his dock and spent all summer working on it in his spare time. He was an ocean-going fisherman and didn’t have much spare time. Put on a new transom, caulked and painted it, same orange color as the Lady and gave it to us. We were flabbergasted he would take the time to do that.
There were four kids in our two-room Menemsha schoolhouse. Mildred Mayhew, who’s 93 now, was our first-grade teacher.
When we got into high school some of the innocence was sort of dashed and you sort of realized how fortunate you were to grow up there.
Dougie was more into being a twin than I was at that point. I wanted to be my own person. I didn’t want to be called by my brother’s name. I went into this rebellious period.
But you know what, when you’re a twin, you’re a twin. There’s nothing you can do about that.
In our early 20s, I was working in Chilmark when my hand began hurting, throbbing, for no reason. Two hours later Doug’s wife called me to say he’d crushed his fingers in a door at Packer’s in Vineyard Haven. I just knew.
When I was 10, I had my appendix out on the first day of school. Doug had the symptoms but he didn’t have appendicitis.
These things happened, I don’t know why. But I learned that no matter how you try to make it different, people’s perception of you (and your brother) is the same.
High school changed our relationship a little bit. Girls. We discovered girls. I sort of limped through high school scholastically but I went to Cape Cod Community College majoring in trying to stay out of Viet Nam.
I like being a builder but I’ve done a lot of different things. My friend Maynard Silva, God bless him, said something I’ve always remembered: “It takes a lot of money to live poorly on this Island.”
The New England spirit, I guess. You do what you have to do to keep going.
I’ve been married twice. My relationships with Terry and Jenny are pretty good and we’ve raised five kids, that’s the important thing.
Both marriages ended after 14 years. My lawyer said, “They’re not short but they’re not real long either.” I said, “Yeah, but I can’t seem to get past 14. I don’t know what’s going on here.”
With my brother? I’m proud to be his twin. What we do now is go away to Florida for a week every year. What we do is practically nothing. We take that time to celebrate twindom.
Our parents owned the little grocery store and post office in Menemsha. Our mother, Barbara Flanders, was postmaster from 1972 until 1989. There were only three: Mr. Reed, the original owner of the store, my father, then my mother. Those are the only three there will ever be.
We lived over the store in summer and rented a house in winter. Moved 16 times before the folks built a house off the Beetlebung crossroads.
Menemsha is the biggest, strongest thing in our lives. We grew up in the fifties and the off-Islanders were from New York. Manhattan. Their kids became our summer friends. We had no idea of richer or poorer. Dave and I never felt we were poor. There was always plenty to eat.
Lenny Jason took a liking to David and me, called us “bad boys.” Showed up with a half-sunk skiff, fixed it and gave to us.
That’s the kind of guy he was. We needed a boat. He made sure we had one. You don’t see that today.
The store was a gathering place. Thomas Hart Benton, Bil Baird, the puppeteer, lots of high-powered people who taught us about the world when they talked with my parents for hours at night there. Mr. Benton drew a picture of the store for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1940s.
It was natural to be twins. To be a singleton, people like you, didn’t compute. We were mirror twins.
In the first grade, Mrs. Mayhew used a mirror to read my writing because I wrote backwards. That lasted about five or six months before I wrote in the right direction.
I don’t know if mirror twins are all like that but a lot of our likes and dislikes are the same.
Our choices with women are different though. Very different ladies. We always got along with each other but I thought it was difficult for our spouses to deal with the twin thing.
Sometimes I’d think we were suffocating them, talking in our shorthand speech. People can be weirded out by that.
Our twin relationship is the most consistent one in my life. I’ve talked with twins that have not gotten along. It blows me away. How can that be?
Dave and I have differences, we really go at it about some things, but we always get over that, the relationship overrides the differences.
Because I am the oldest, sometimes I feel like I’m a leader, but sometimes in my life he’s led me.
But I’ve never thought about much of this [twin] stuff. Never had to.
I’ve come to find out the most important thing in this world is love and family. That’s all we have in the end.
I can remember being rebellious about that for awhile, not really understanding that its hard to come by that willingness to stand by you.
I thought I knew but when my wife Barbara died I had no idea how important it was to have family and friends around you. That’s how I got it. Then Susie [Pacheco] showed up and changed my life.
Now my mother is having a hard time and I’ve learned this is my time to take care of her and to see it as a good and positive thing.