by Lin McNulty
They are delightfully iconic. They are loveable island characters. And it was important that I get a photo of them together, so I could be confident that there really are two of them.
Jimi and Johnny Mudd recently celebrated their 60th birthday(s). They entered the world on February 6, 1953—Jimi arriving six minutes before his brother. That, says Johnny, can mean only one thing, that he is the “new and improved” version—an upgraded Mudd brother. Birth certificates (or maybe it’s their passports; they aren’t sure which) indicate Johnny was born in Van Nuys and Jimi says his shows he was born in Burbank. It makes for only one of many good stories the brothers willingly share.
The twins were not a surprise to their mother. She had been told to expect them. She just didn’t know she was going to get these twins! Speaking with them together is much like talking with a couple who has been married for 50 or more years—they finish each other’s sentences, and it’s not easy to separate the truth from the fiction Although it may not be twinspeak, where twins often develop their own language to communicate between them, everything is an inside joke!
On the heels of a small inheritance, it was Jimi who first came to Orcas Island, but it was Johnny who first moved here. Their sister, Mary Porter, was a teacher at Orcas School, and their mother had attended camp here in her youth. The purpose of Jimi’s initial visit was to help his mother find a piece of property. Although they didn’t find a parcel for her, they did convince Mom that if the two brothers lived together, they would probably kill each other. So, they each acquired their own house, and moved here in 1989.
Johnny’s favorite childhood memory was from Halloween in 1961. It was an election year—Kennedy vs. Nixon. Their mother dressed them up in KKK outfits and they set out trick or treating, returning home with about $20 in plunder. Presumably, the pleasant recollection is based on the booty, and not on the costume.
Jimi remembers bugging his mother one day about being hungry. Go out, she said, and find a gopher and I will cook it up for you. The boys did, indeed, hunt and capture a gopher. And even though it resulted in a visit to the Emergency Room for Johnny, who suffered a gopher bite, Jimi held his mother to the promise to cook the gopher; she made a tiny gopher meatloaf. I submit that if it had been Jimi with the gopher bite, it would not have been such a pleasant remembrance for him.
What’s a good twin story without identity confusion? Johnny offered (or perhaps Jimi convinced him) to go to the courthouse to pay one of Jimi’s traffic tickets. When Johnny went to pay the ticket, he was advised he needed to go before the judge. When the judge said, “I’ve seen you in this court before, son…!” Johnny knew it was not going to be a good day.
When Johnny walked into a bar one day that he had never been in before, and the bartender said “I thought I told you never to come in here again,” he again knew it was not going to be a good day.
The Mudd brothers come from some interesting ancestral stock. A great-grand-something, Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd was the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after his assassination of President Lincoln. The doctor was convicted and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with Booth in the 1865 assassination, and was released from prison in 1869. Despite repeated attempts to have it expunged, his conviction has never been overturned. The Orcas Mudd boys indicate that President Jimmy Carter pardoned him, but the appeal of the Military Tribunal ruling was 20 minutes late in filing so it was thrown out.
An uncle, Harvey Seeley Mudd, developed Pomona College, and is the namesake for the esteemed Harvey Mudd College, a nearby private residential liberal arts college of science, engineering, and mathematics, both in Claremont, California. Johnny says he went to Harvey Mudd College. He thinks he checked out a book from the library.
The Mudds have been on Orcas Island for at least 300 years. After all, they note, there have been three 100-year storms. Johnny’s view of history is perhaps skewed: “The older I get,” he smiles, “the better I was.”
Jimi somewhat apologetically relates what it was like being the mother of these two. “We tested and pushed the limits with mom,” he recalls.
They were not able to answer my one burning question: Which one first decided to have the beard(s)? They exchanged glances, but had no reply. They agree, however, that it’s a barbaric practice to scrape one’s face with a sharp stone. “We have evolved beyond that,” they say.
They have always been blessed, they point out, with an ability to make people laugh, and as one of them remarked, “It’s hard to be anonymous.” “When you’re a twin,” said the other one. Or maybe it was only one of them that said that; it’s hard to tell.