Cherishing a class photo from almost 70 years ago — because of the kid in the flannel shirt on the back row

A mix of smiles and serious faces. Youthful innocence everywhere you look. A few closed eyes and lots of squinting (why do photographers make us stare into the sun?). All the girls wearing dresses. One poor kid on the front row even sporting a buttoned-up suit coat, vest, and slacks that his parents obviously insisted he wear, white shirt fastened to his neck, no doubt making swallowing a challenge.

It was the spring of 1954, and the kids were fourth-graders at Peyton Elementary School on Rotary Road in east Huntington, West Virginia. Most of them would’ve been 9 years old. As much as I love the nostalgia of black-and-white photos, I so wish I could see this memorable image in color. 

Those days, it cost about 70 cents to catch a movie at the State Theatre in downtown Huntington. Gas was around 23 cents a gallon, bread 18 cents a loaf, milk 92 cents a gallon, and a postage stamp a mere 3 cents. Thankfully, the Korean conflict had ended less than a year earlier. Within a few months, Ellis Island would close, and Sen. Joe McCarthy was well on his way to being condemned by the Senate for his destructive, hateful tactics. 

But back to the Peyton kids. The reason this photo is so special to me: When I first saw it on Facebook in late 2021, it didn’t take long to recognize someone I love very much: My brother Crys Workman.

The 1953-54 fourth-grade class at Peyton Elementary School in my birthplace of Huntington, West Virginia. The school, which opened in 1939, closed its doors in 2015 and consolidated into the state’s first Explorer Academy in Huntington.

Those on my blog and on FB who’ve graciously followed my journey know Crys as the oldest of the three full-blooded siblings whose lives I startlingly entered almost 18 years ago. In June 2005, a reasonably short search turned up my original family — the one I never knew until I was 44 years old.

In the class picture, Crys is the tall, dapper kid in the middle of the back row, wearing the long-sleeve, plaid flannel shirt — a style he says he wore almost exclusively as a youth. I’m not being at all biased in saying that when it comes to looks, he’s head and shoulders above all the other boys in the class. Crys had turned 10 earlier that semester in February.

Far as I can tell, I’m familiar with only two of his classmates: Fourth from left on the front row, posing demurely with her right leg slightly bent, easily smiling the most adorable smile and the cutest girl in the group, is Elyse Peters Bower. It’s Elyse who posted the class photo on her Facebook page, and I was thrilled when I saw it and reached out to her. 

The other student with whom I’ve exchanged a handful of comments on FB is Penny Nichols Blue, second from left on the back row. She and Crys were very (very) good friends and childhood crushes, he shared with me from his fond memories of those years. He walked her home from school on many an afternoon. (I’m sure they took their sweet, tender time.)

Crys, our late brother Robin and their parents Betty and Bob — who would become my biological parents when they conceived me in mid-May 1960, some 13 months after a judge granted Betty’s divorce petition — moved to 121 Perry Street in the spring of ’54. It’s a good bet Betty was already pregnant with our sister Terry, who arrived just days before Christmas that year on Dec. 19. 

So, Crys enrolled at Peyton late in fourth grade and stayed there through sixth. The school was more than a mile walk from their rented home, which I’ve seen on visits to Huntington with Terry.

For about 10 years, I’ve been an honorary member of the Facebook alumni page for the 1962 seniors of Huntington East High School — the 300-plus graduating class of which Crys, Elyse and Penny were members. I feel blessed to have become friends with several of the grads — including, now, Elyse — who have been so gracious while embracing our story of an adoptee who found his three older, honest-to-goodness full siblings after decades of not knowing the first thing about his biological family.

Elyse told me she remembers that she and Crys represented Peyton in a big spelling bee the following school year, in fifth grade — and Crys amazingly has the same memory. She even recalled the word she was knocked out on (I won’t spell — I mean spill — it here). 

After I added a comment on Elyse’s class photo post, in which I mentioned how handsome Crys was and the origin of his full first name, Crystal (he’s named after a maternal great-uncle of ours), she had this to say:

“As I remember all the girls liked Crys.”

In reply, I said: “Somehow I’m not surprised to hear you say that about Crys.”

Soon, on the last day of February, Crys and I will celebrate our astoundingly shared birthday, 17 years apart — one of the many wonderful gifts that “becoming brothers” after all our years apart brought us. He’ll turn a youthful 79 while I’ll climb a bit deeper into the 60s at 62. Hopefully the two of us and sis Terry will get together on a video call as we try to do every month or two, catching up and sharing long-distance sibling love for a while (they’re both in the Denver area, where they’ve been for 50ish years).

It’s not too early to wish my awesome brother happy birthday, is it? (After all, he faithfully reads his little brother’s blog.)

So happy, happy, happy birthday, Crys! We love you!  ❤️ ☺️

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