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Twins Spin Portrait of Bygone Era : Heritage: Women, 79, tell tales of love and mischief from their days growing up in colorful town of French Camp.


FRENCH CAMP, Calif. — Edna Reynolds laughed when her boyfriend mistakenly took Ella Reynolds, her twin, into the orchard for a kiss. It was a joke they had played many times on their parents and teachers.

Later, they played it on their husbands. Edna's husband once pinned a corsage on Ella's bosom.

"It felt good while it was on me, thank you," Ella recalled two months shy of her 80th birthday.

The Reynolds twins recount tales of love and mischief during the days of paddle boats and horseless carriages in San Joaquin County's oldest settlement.

French fur trappers got credit for establishing camps on what was considered nearly useless swampland here in 1828, but it took the twins' arrival on May 27, 1913, to give the place some notoriety.

Born three months prematurely, Ella and Edna had tiny fingers that resembled bird claws. The infants were kept in a cotton-lined shoe box behind the wood-heating stove. People flocked to see the babies, who weren't expected to live.

The girls were named for notorious twin horse thieves on their mother's side who were named Edward and Eldridge. Their mother, Annie Reynolds, was San Joaquin County's first female deputy sheriff. Their father, William, was prospecting for gold the day his daughters were born.

Grandmother Jack, the horse thieves' mother, saturated the babies in olive oil and fed them with an eyedropper. She helped them reach a weight of eight pounds on their first birthday, about what a full-term baby weighs at birth these days.

Ella and Edna's childhood memories are snapshots of a bygone era:

* They used to board paddle boats with their mother at 6 p.m. in Stockton for an all-night ride through the channel to San Francisco. The girls worried the flagpole would break as the triple-deck ship cleared the bridge in Antioch.

* After eighth-grade graduation from the newly completed French Camp School in 1928, the girls got jobs in the Del Monte asparagus cannery in nearby Stockton. Later, Edna became a switchboard operator and Ella a hospital orderly.

* The family's French Camp home, believed to be more than 100 years old, has been restored and kept up by the twins' nephew. The white two-story with porch and tiered roofs was purchased and relocated from Stockton when the girls were toddlers.

Nowadays, you can often catch the twins in another city south of French Camp.

Lathrop, incorporated in 1989, was a booming railroad town with a busy depot and hotel around the turn of the century. The twins like to frequent the billiards room and arcade of a pizza parlor that stands on 7th Street where the hotel used to be.

They swear all their stories are true and giggle knowingly about those they cannot tell.

We know how Ella found her husband; it began with the kiss from her sister's boyfriend in the orchard. But how did Edna get her man?

"In the back seat," Edna said.

"Tell it like it is, Ed," her sister added. "You'll get the black eye, not me."

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