Roberta Keys-Torn with her daughter, Susan Torn Young, were recorded at StoryCorps in Houston, Texas.
Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle
And babies make six: Alma and Flake Keys balance their quadruplets. From left, Roberta, Mona, Leota and Mary.
And babies make six: Alma and Flake Keys balance their quadruplets. From left, Roberta, Mona, Leota and Mary. Courtesy of the Houston Chronicle
When Roberta Keys-Torn and her sisters were born in 1915, it came as a surprise. Her parents, after all, were expecting one child — not four girls who together weighed 16 pounds.
Roberta, Mona, Mary and Leota were born in their parents' bedroom in Hollis, Okla. Their parents, Alma and Flake Keys, had only one birth certificate, on which they entered the names on one line, along with a note: "All Girls."
After that day, the girls became a sensation in their own right.
Every year from the time they were 9 months old to when they were in the third grade, the girls were put on display at the Oklahoma State Fair, Roberta Keys-Torn recently told her daughter, Susan Torn Young.
And when the girls were recognized later in life, Keys-Torn says, "Some people would say, 'Ooh, we paid 25 cents to see you when you were little, at the fair.'" The sisters' response was often "Do you want your money back?"
Their notoriety as quadruplets even earned them college educations — Baylor University offered to teach them at no charge. And to make money, the sisters went on stage singing and playing saxophones — an instrument they had long played, as Keys-Torn recalls. They were, after all, a natural quartet.
Asked how she would like to be remembered, Keys-Torn, now at 91 the only member of the quadruplets still living, says, "As somebody who gave back."
"Your kids and your grandkids will remember you," Susan Torn Young says, "as a person who had character, as well as a person who was a character."
Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Sarah Kramer.