It's Show-and-Tell Time for America's Oldest Triplets—Velma, Vinal and Vilda, Age 85

updated 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/02/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

When 5-year-old Jennifer Mauss of Walnut Creek, Calif. walked into her kindergarten class for show-and-tell time, her three surprises were an instant hit. "This is my great-grandfather and his sisters," Jennifer mumbled to her rapt classmates sitting on the floor. "And...and...they're trip-a-lets." What's more, Vinal Mauss and his sisters, Velma Torp and Vilda Hughes, told the class that they were, as far as anyone knew, the oldest living triplets in the U.S. The three had gotten together to celebrate their 85th birthday on Oct. 16, and they were more than happy to tell the youngsters about being born with the century.

After Jennifer's show-and-tell had proved a clear winner over two of the day's other entrants—a hamster and a ukulele—the affable triplets talked to reporters. Velma explained that in 1900 doctors couldn't test for multiple pregnancies the way they can now, especially in rural Murray, Utah, where the triplets were born. "We were so small that no clothes would fit us," she said. "They wrapped us in cotton and put us each in a shoe box. Back then stoves had something called 'warming ovens,' so they put us in there to keep us warm. It's a miracle we lived because it was a terrible winter."

By the next summer the Mauss triplets were strong enough to be put on display at the 1901 Utah State Fair, where they made a return appearance in 1907. "They had us up onstage, me and Vilda dressed alike and Vinal wearing something like us," Velma recalled of the 1907 appearance. Added Vinal, "But I don't think we ever felt any closer toward each other than we did toward our six other brothers and sisters."

They said they rarely saw each other after reaching adulthood, partly because Vinal moved to Japan to work as a Mormon missionary. He now lives in Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco, with his wife, Ethel, 82, and works as a newspaper distributor. The sisters, both widows and retired telephone operators, live near their Utah birthplace.

"When we were 15 or 16, Vilda and I looked so much alike that even our father couldn't tell us apart," Velma mused. "So we'd swap boyfriends. She'd go out with mine and I'd go out with hers. They never knew the difference, and we enjoyed every bit of it."

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