AUGUSTA — “C’est bon?” Lawrence Binette asked.
“Oui,” responded Maurice Binette, as each sipped on a can of O’Doul’s nonalcoholic beer.
The exchange between the identical twins came as they dined on cakes marking their 100th birthday.
Each blew out the candle atop his name.
The celebration at the Maine Veterans’ Home came a little before their April 5 birthday, but the feat was no less remarkable.
The two were born to Maurice and Victoria (Jacques) Binette at their Northern Avenue home, probably delivered by their grandmother, on April 5, 1914. They were among the dozen children in the family, which can trace Binet ancestors to 1637 in Poitiers, France.
Their father was a ground man in the paper mill on the east side of the river, putting logs into a vat and grinding them to a pulp. “He was a strong man,” Lawrence Binette said.
Their mother died when the twins were 11, and they were sent first to a school in Lewiston and later to Victoriaville, Quebec.
Today the men still look alike, with their balding heads and bright eyes. They both have difficulty hearing, although Lawrence Binette can read lips and large letters.
He’s doing well. “A little bit wobbly on the legs, and my eyesight is weak also,” he said. But he still has his own apartment in Kennebec Plaza on Willow Street, keeping it neat and practicing his own version of healthy eating: one beer a day, potato chips and ice cream.
In fact, he recalls when President Franklin Roosevelt signed a law permitting beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent. “We had to stand up to drink our beer,” Lawrence Binette said. “Then they made booths on Water Street to sit down and drink our beer.”
His only medicines are an occasional Tums or Rolaids.
“I try to take a rest every day,” he said.
He’s requested a lobster for dinner for his actual birthday, and longtime friend Noella Barker and her daughter, Nicole Hamlin, plan to take him on a drive that day and get him lobster.
For Maurice Binette, however, who lives at the Maine Veterans’ Home home’ on Cony Road, almost all his food has to be cut or ground up so he won’t choke on it. But at the party, the icing on the cake went down quite smoothly.
Sitting side-by-side in wheelchairs in a small kitchen area, the men opened birthday cards from friends and family and recalled their days in the Army during World War II, as well as their careers.
Maurice Binette served from Feb. 17, 1943, to Jan. 24, 1945, when he was honorably discharged. He recalled cleaning the glass on the outside of the barracks.
His brother Lawrence served from 1942 to 1945 and made the rank of corporal. He trained in West Palm Beach, Fla., and then was shipped by train to Presque Isle. “We had the curtains down on the windows,” he recalled.
From there he went to Newfoundland for guard duty at a port for submarines.
“You walked from post to post with your gun,” he said, recalling the “very cold” weather.
Lawrence Binette talked about one of his earliest jobs, digging a hole for a trench for electrical lines along Western Avenue before the road was paved, and then putting down water and tar. “Men on trucks threw gravel on top and a steam roller would go over it,” he said.
The pay was “not much,” he said. “In those days, the jobs were rare.” He worked later in a shoe factory and retired from the housekeeping department at Augusta’s now-vacated hospital on East Chestnut Street.
Maurice Binette lived in Massachusetts for a time. “I was a custodian at Emerson College, taking care of the whole building,” he said. He said he was popular at the women’s college and liked all the kisses on his cheeks from the students.
Lawrence Binette recalled getting lost while hunting one day when he was younger and falling into an old well, and later falling into the Kennebec River while trying to walk across a log boom.
Lawrence Binette was married, but neither twin had children.
“Maurice was incredibly close to us when we were kids,” said Philippe Jacques, of Augusta, a nephew of the men. “That’s why I’ve sort of, for the past 25 years, looked after him.”
Jacques and his wife were present for the party.