Ray and Al DeGabriele celebrated their 96th birthday Feb. 24. The twins were born in Roslyn, WA in 1916 and from 1948 to 1960 ran a grocery store in West Seattle. CLICK THE PHOTO ABOVE TO SEE MORE
At age 96 the DeGabriele twins are sharp, funny and wonderful
Al and Ray DeGabriele may not be the oldest twins in the world (that distinction belongs to two Scottish sisters who are 102) but at age 96 they are easily the oldest twins in West Seattle. They celebrated their birthday together on Feb. 24 with family and friends. Ray is fifteen minutes older than Al.
They were born in Roslyn, WA in 1916 and lived there for a few years. Their father was, "an important man in the town," they said, and they had a good childhood. Their mother dressed them alike when they were young but after they got a bit older their styles diverged but not by much. Al has a different explanation, "Our mother couldn't afford his lifestyle," he said laughing. In later years Ray explained, "One time each of us went out to buy clothes and darn it if we didn't come home with the same stuff." The two of them got almost identical grades through their school years.
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By the time they reached their teenage years they moved to Cle Elum and attended Cle Elum High School together. By then, while they looked the same they had started parting their hair differently, and the parallels between them, while they were still there, started taking a different form.
They both went to work for Safeway in Bremerton and their career in the grocery business began.
In September of 1941 Ray joined the Army. The attack on Pearl Harbor would come 3 months later. But Al had a problem. His doctor told him he was "under weight" so he could not join and was deferred. So a few months later he tried again but again he was deferred. Finally, a short time later, his doctor came into the store and held up the paper that said Al had been accepted. That was in June, nearly a year after his brother had joined.
Ray became an Army Engineer and Al was in the Signal Corps and it may have been because they were twins or possibly due to their Italian heritage but despite being in totally different divisions, they managed to meet several times in Italy during the war.
After the war they returned to the grocery business but they wanted to be in charge and after working for a cousin for a time, borrowed $10,000 and in 1946 created Ray and Al's IGA at 2123 California Ave. s.w. (the location is now an apartment complex). That business was successful and during their tenure they came to know a young Dyan Friesen (later actress Dyan Cannon who married Cary Grant) and actress Frances Farmer both of whom went to West Seattle High School. Al said of Dyan, "She'd come in and flirt quite often and she was cuter than a bugs ear!" but Ray said, "He's just making up stories now, she was too young!"
They got to know Clyde Dunn, at the time publisher of the West Seattle Herald, too. Al remembered, "We held a contest with all the Admiral merchants and we bought a car to give away. It was just a small car. But the contest was open to everybody. So we had a lot of entries and the big day came and we drew the name of the winner. It was Clyde Dunn's wife! But she won it fair and square."
Their most vivid memory was the April 13, 1949 earthquake. "It dumped one half of the store right on the floor," said Al. At 7.1 it was the largest quake to hit Seattle, larger even than the more recent 2001 Nisqually quake.
They ran the store through the 1950's but then competition forced them out, and it closed in 1960. The ensuing years found them working as managers for various grocery chains including Thriftway, Safeway and Red Apple until Ray retired when he was 65. Al worked into his 70's.
Both men married and had families, Ray with two children and Al with four. Ray and his wife were married in 1949 and just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in October.
They both miss the way West Seattle used to be. "When we moved here," said Ray, "It was a small village. Everybody was happy and everybody knew everybody. But it's the pits right now. If I was a young person I would not live in West Seattle. It's outgrown everything."
They didn't get out on the town much when they worked here, they ate in the store. "We had a hot plate and a lot of food. We had a butcher who ate lunch with us in the back room and we'd ask him, 'What are you having today Jack?' and he'd say, 'I'm having a cannibal sandwich.' That was two slices of bread and raw ground beef and onion. It was good!" Al said laughing loudly.
The one thing Ray wishes he had done is to have learned to play a musical instrument, and Al said that he once wrote a song, though he never got around to learning to play either.
Their mutual careers in the grocery business mean they have strong opinions about the current stores out there. Both honestly prefer the QFC stores in West Seattle with Ray choosing the Westwood Town Center store and Al preferring the one on Alaska Street. They don't like the other stores in the area very much they said.
Al still bowls once a week at West Seattle Bowl, not surprisingly in the senior league and he has a 160 average. Both twins have enjoyed "playing the ponies" at the track. Ray now spends a lot of his time taking care of his wife.
The brothers are both in good health and feel lucky to have each other and to have lived so long. "We've had a good life," said Ray, "honestly we really have no regrets."
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