TWINSBURG, Ohio – It’s a Saturday at the 42nd Annual Twins Days Festival, and a battalion of relatives herds two miniature bobby-soxers in matching poodle skirts into a tent to be photographed.
The toddlers stand side by side, as stiff as their saddle shoes.
“Wanna put your arms around your sistah?” the photographer, Richard Boudreau – Richie to his friends – says to the reluctant young subjects in his unshakeable Boston accent.
The twins relax and hug each other, cheek pressed to cheek. Richie raises his digital camera and captures their shy smiles, recording their ineffable bond with a single click.
The girls and their entourage move to a neighboring trailer where the photo is pressed into souvenir buttons sold for $5 a pop.
The proceeds go to help financially strapped first-timers – out-of-town twins who can’t swing the costs of coming to the festival in Twinsburg, the city named for brothers Aaron and Moses Wilcox. The identical twins were inseparable, marrying sisters in a communal wedding. As their 1827 obituary recounts, they even died on the same day and are buried in the same Twinsburg grave.
Not all twins are so destined. Pinned to Richie Boudreau’s shirt is a button of his own: “My Twin is in Heaven.”
It was Richie’s brother Ralph who insisted they make the pilgrimage to the famous celebration of multiples in 1992. Ralph was the “A Twin” or the first born. As Richie explains, A’s are the bossy ones, the Bs’ content to follow.
And it was Ralph, the charming extrovert and natural performer – “We used to call him Regis Philbin,” says Richie – who decided they’d sing one of Frank Sinatra’s signature songs, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” at the Twins Talent Show. He dragged a reluctant Richie onstage.
They had a ball and vowed to return the following year – and every year after. But then Ralph got sick. They prayed for a miracle but had to settle for something less: somehow, after a grueling surgery to treat his stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Ralph made it to Twinsburg for a final encore.
As the brothers crooned the Sinatra tune that day, the lyrics took on a new meaning. The words stuck in Richie’s throat. Ralph belted the song with the conviction of the Chairman of the Board. He died three months later, in November 1993. He was 41.
Friends Harvey and Elliot Caplan, also twins, coaxed a broken Richie back to the festival in 1994. That’s when the trio came up with the idea for the Reau Boys Fund. Selling buttons to bring more twins to the festival was the perfect way to honor Ralph’s memory. Nobody loved Twins Days more than Ralph.
For the last 23 years, Richie, a Massachusetts native who now lives in Virginia, has returned to Twinsburg the first weekend in August to man the camera. “I see my twin,” he says, “in every shot.”
To date, the fund has helped bring some 50 sets of twins to what the Guinness Book has dubbed the largest annual gathering of twins in the world – including sisters from Germany this summer.
Richie points out a woman nearby, walking solo. “She lost her twin a year ago.” Twinless twins, as they are sometimes called, seek Richie out because they know he understands.
“It’s not easy to be here without your twin,” he says, tears filling his eyes. “But it’s the best support group ever.”
During the rare break, Richie hands his camera to volunteer and heads for the stage. As he does every year, the man who hated to sing in public grips the microphone, standing alone. He apologies to the crowd in advance for any sour notes. Ralph, he explains, was the vocalist in the family.
“I’ve got you,” he begins, pointing to the sky, “under my skin.
“I’ve got you deep in the heart of me.
“So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me.
“Yeah, I’ve got him under my skin.”
To apply for a grant from the Reau Boys Fund, twins and other multiples should visit twinsdays.org/reauboys-fund.