Pining nostalgic while celebrating 85th birthday

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Posted 8/02/16 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

Be honest.
Do you really remember what songs the soloist sang at your wedding?
If, at your wedding, you were a bride, don’t answer that question. Your recollection is a given.
If you were a groom, though, odds are pretty strong that you can’t answer it.
At least not without checking the wedding program, or, depending on your age, the video.
Then again, if you were a groom, you won’t know where to find the program anyway, much less the video.
But if you get to the point where it’s time to clean out your parents’ house to prepare it for being sold, you’ll find all the evidence of the songs David Walen sang at THEIR wedding.
And that’s not all.
You’ll find enough stuff to put together a whole trivia contest for use when it comes time to celebrate your father’s 85th birthday.
There were 35 of us, give or take, who gathered in Fargo Saturday to celebrate the milestone birthday of the guy who, depending on your generation, is called, dad, grandpa, Papa John or just plain John.
And in the process, they all learned that David Walen, the former bard of Frederick Township, sang “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Because,” and “At Dawning” during that June 17, 1951 wedding at Skabo Church northeast of Alamo.
That’s not the only piece of nostalgia for which any groom would need a hint or a reminder.
Like what was the wedding gift given to you by your parents. Or by her parents? Or what did you, the quickly forgetful groom, give to your bride? Or even better, what did she give to you?
Forgive Papa John if he didn’t remember that it was, in order: two pillows and a set of silver; a set of dishes; three-strand pearls and earrings; and a key chain and tie pin.
He was, after all, the groom, and that was, after all, 65 years ago.
My wedding was only half that long ago, and I had to ask my wife what we gave each other. After all, I, too, was the groom.
(The answer, she told me: a wedding and a Caribbean cruise.)
Now if you’d ask a self-respecting groom something more relevant and important, he’d have absolutely no trouble letting you know that his favorite team back in ‘51 was the Brooklyn Dodgers, that the starting lineup included Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snyder and Carl Furilla, and that the ace pitchers were Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe and Carl Erskine.
Heck, if we’d thought to ask, he might have even remembered their batting averages.
There was plenty of other trivia that came out of that treasure trove of memorabilia plucked from the basement of his home on Second Street Southeast in Crosby.
People who have known Papa John recall that he spent his entire adult life at 5’6” and a few pounds shy of a buck-fifty.
But at birth, Aug. 1, 1931, he was a chunk -- nine-and-a-half pounds of cheek and blubber.
Also out of character by today’s standards is that he was just five weeks old when his mom and dad bundled him up for his first road trip, a 235-mile adventure to introduce him to her parents in Starkweather, N.D.
One other thing we learned from John’s report cards from the State College of Science in Wahpeton.
He got a “C” in sociology the fall semester of 1950, while at the same time coming home with an “A” in journalism. 
That was a pretty good indicator of whether he’d become a sociologist or a newspaper man who would rise to the presidency of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and the National Newspaper Association, and be inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame.
And finally,  this from his baby book:  The first prayer he memorized was, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for this food.”
It was the same prayer we said at lunch Sunday, my 85-year-old father still reciting it with my four grandchildren and, in some fashion, with the fifth who will be born in about a month.
All of it is proof positive of one thing: God is great and God is good.