Sixty Years Of Memories

For my dad's 60th birthday last week, I wanted to do something really fun. My dad and I talk a lot about the past---nostalgia runs in our blood, I think---and we both love to reminisce. Inspired by Jordan Ferney's Postcard Birthday Poster, I started batting around an idea: what if I could get everyone from my dad's past to contribute a memory they had of him? What if I had all those people send their memories to me, and then I put each one into an envelope---sixty total, of course---and had him open them, one by one, on his birthday?

That would be a lot of memories, right?

So I wrote an email. I sent it to family, to friends, to aunties and uncles we'd grown up calling aunties and uncles even though they weren't related by blood. This is what I said:

Hello everyone!

If you're receiving this email, you probably know that our dad, Patrick Burns, is turning 60 next month (much as he would hate us to be reminding everyone, I'm sure.) To celebrate his birthday, we'd like to put together a little surprise to let him know that his nearest and dearest are thinking of him. We're going to try and create "60 Years of Memories" by filling 60 envelopes with a memory his friends and family have of him.

And this is where you come in!

If you have a spare moment in the next few days, we would be so grateful if you'd jot down a favorite memory you have of our dad and put it in the post. It doesn't have to be anything fancy -- you can just write it down on a piece of paper and sign your name. You can mention anything you like -- although the more nostalgic the better! Please absolutely feel free to send more than one memory (in fact, we welcome it -- we've got 60 envelopes to fill!), but make sure you write them on different pieces of paper (and sign your name to each) so we can split them up.

Thank you so, so, so much for participating -- we know everyone is busy with their own lives, and we do appreciate you taking a few minutes to do this; it will be so worth it when he reads all the memories people have of him! (Please don't forget to keep it a surprise until then, though!)

Thank you so much again.

--Holly, Tom, Luke, and Susie

(I also gave them my address, of course, though I've obviously left it out here. Not that I don't want to open the door and have you standing there wielding a steak knife, but it might be kind of awkward for both of us.)

So I sent the email and then I waited. And then the replies started coming in and I was flabbergasted. I was flabbergasted, Internet, and I do not use that word lightly. There were so many memories, and they were all so lovely. They came from the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, from every decade between now and the day my dad was born. They came from my mother, my siblings, my grandma, my dad's friends from high school, his sister, an old girlfriend, my mother's old boyfriend, my dad's first boss, a colleague at his first job, from people who remembered people no longer with us, from people who hadn't seen my dad in forty years, from people I hadn't even contacted originally but who had been told about the project by someone else. They typed them and handwrote them. They mailed them and emailed them. I collected them for two weeks, my heart pinging with excitement each time a new one arrived.

The night before his birthday, my sister and I stayed up late, putting everything together. I had some vintage airmail envelopes left over from my wedding—I found them on ebay a few years ago—and I bought a packet of numbered stickers at Michaels after a fraught half hour of anxious math, trying to decide how many we'd need. We numbered the envelopes from one to 60, then we tucked a different memory into each.

And then, on the morning of his birthday, after breakfast and presents and cake, we gave them to him. "Just one more thing for you," we said.

It took him a really, really, really long time to open them. Each one was a brief ticket to another time, a leap backwards over years and decades into the past. There was a lot of laughter, and---I don't think my dad will mind me telling you this---a few tears too.

There were also a couple of emerging themes:

a) My dad locks himself out a lot

b) My dad may have had a little too much to drink upon occasion during his rugby-playing years

c) My dad often has trouble remembering to bring his passport on international trips.

I'm thinking at least two of those three might have been related, what do you say?

In a way, I'm sort of sad that this project is over because it was a huge amount of fun to collect and collate all of these memories, many of them occuring years before I was even born. It gave me a different picture of my dad, one woven together by all the people from his past, all those people who---weirdly, peripherally, slowly, surely---put into action the sequence of events that led to my life as I know it.

Turns out, you can make a lot of memories in sixty years. And then, if you're lucky, you can relive them all over again.


walkingborder (Karen)
Jun 21, 2011

Wow. I got tears just reading this. If the daughter I'm growing is half the daughter you are... Wow.

Jun 21, 2011

OH. MY. WORD. What a fantastic idea! Now I can't wait for my mom to turn sixty to totally use your awesome gift idea! (Can I steal it? Is that allowed?)

Also, where'd the envelopes come from originally?

Amy --- Just A Titch
Jun 22, 2011

This is such an amazing idea! I love it! I might have to steal it for when my mom turns 55 soon. What a thoughtful gift.

Jun 22, 2011

I just had a awesomely shitty day at work and just settled down to check emails and read your blog, as usual. I can't wait for each of your blogs everyday and today I m floored. I get tears in my eyes and think your dad must be very

I totally love your blogs and I feel happy you have found something that makes you happy as well in your new job.

You make the rest of us normal human beings look really unaccomplished. :)

Jun 22, 2011

That was such a wonderful thing to do for your Father, thank you for sharing that moment!

Jun 22, 2011

LOVE this 60 years of memories. Am going to share this with my friends. It's absolutely lovely. (:

Jun 22, 2011

This is the most amazing present I have ever seen any one give. Ever. Your family and friends are insanely lucky. I want to be your friend/sister/you.

In fact, I have just officially renounced all of my friends, given up work, and set up postal delivery for my groceries, on the slight off chance of you one day knocking on my door asking if we can be friends.

Pop on by whenever. I'll be in.

Jun 22, 2011

What an awesome present for your Dad on his 60th and on Father's Day weekend. You are a super girl daughter, and have a lovely family. I think we all want to be adopted by the Burns'!

Jun 22, 2011

Holly, that is an indescribably amazing gift. I'm in awe, honestly. Just ... what an amazing gift for someone. Seriously.

Jun 22, 2011

Totally agree with everyone here. So so sweet and what an amazing new memory you just created and it speaks volumes about the man that is your dad.

Jun 22, 2011

This is absolutely amazing!!!

Melanie D
Jun 22, 2011

I feel so silly, but will admit it anyway that this made me cry. How very sweet that was of you guys, how wonderful your dad must've felt. It was a brilliant idea.

Jun 22, 2011

I LOVE this idea. And I may have had tears in my eyes when I read all about it. Your Dad must have had such an amazing time catching up on 60 years worth of memories. Just fantastic

Jun 22, 2011

What a lovely thing for you and your sister to do. So touching and sweet. I got a little verklempt!

Jun 22, 2011

Wow, what an amazing idea, and of course you put it together so beautifully. Love it.

Jun 22, 2011

Ditto "the great idea" comments from all! Just thinking that this idea could be rolled into a wedding gift or retirement, or anything else like that. How wonderful!

Jun 22, 2011

This made me cry, what a wonderful thing to receive.u

Jun 22, 2011

Amazing idea! I got a little choked up just seeing your dad's face reading the notes! Already of thinking of how I can use this and when...What an amazing gift.

Jun 22, 2011

Wow! What an incredible gift!

Jun 22, 2011

You are the best daughter in the world, and a pretty spiffing person in general.

Jun 22, 2011

I'm tearing up at work. This is awkward! What a wonderful gift, Holly - the look on your dad's face is priceless.

Jun 22, 2011

What a fantastic idea! The pictures of your dad's expressions as he's reading the letters are priceless. I will totally be stealing this idea for my parents' 40th anniversary next year.

Jun 22, 2011

Fabulous! And like several other of your commenters, I'm tearing up now. You, and your siblings, are the best! Your parents must be very, very proud of you.

Jun 22, 2011

We did a similar thing for my Mom's 50th - but that was before the days of email and Facebook so it was hard to get in touch with as many people as I would have liked. She loved it all the same, of course.

Jun 22, 2011

Ok, so I don't tear up a lot at blog posts, but THIS! This was incredible.

Jun 22, 2011

Oh Holly! What a fantastic gift! I can't wait to do this for my dad. He's turning 55 soon, (well, in like, two years) and this will be a wonderful surprise!

Mary H.
Jun 22, 2011

This is so simple and so awesome! A priceless gift!

Heather B.
Jun 22, 2011

Filing this one away for later.

Such a fantastic idea, HB!

Jun 22, 2011

What a great idea!

Jun 22, 2011

What a gorgeous gift! I've put this at the top of my "Ideas to Steal" list :)

Jun 22, 2011

I want someone to do this for me!

Also, I wish I had gone to boarding school, solely so I'd have handwriting like yours!

Jun 22, 2011

I want someone to do this for me!

Also, I wish I had gone to boarding school, solely so I'd have handwriting like yours!

Jun 22, 2011

You are the best daughter ever! :) I just love your family. I just saw that someone put this on Pinterest already.

Sarah Brown
Jun 22, 2011

Okay, yeah, now I'm just crying freely. Beautiful idea! I love your family.

Jun 22, 2011

Wow . . . what an amazing idea! That is such a wonderful gift.

Jun 22, 2011

Holly, what a sweet idea. I love this, and I hope you won't mind if I borrow it from you in the future. It brought tears to my eyes, and I know your dad must be so impacted by the gift.

Xoxo from Savannah

Jun 22, 2011

Seriously? Best present ever. I really wish I had been able to borrow this idea and use it on my Dad. You did something very special for yours, and I hope you feel good about it!

Laura B.
Jun 22, 2011

Amazing! I'm only sad that my dad turned 60 last year! Maybe next year I'll do 61 years of memories.

Jun 22, 2011

Brilliant!! What a lovely gift and perfect way to remind your Dad how much he is loved.

Jun 22, 2011

Holly, this is so special. What an amazing, beautiful gift.

Kelly H.
Jun 22, 2011

what a BEAUTIFUL idea. i don't know if there's any other gift that would make someone feel quite as loved and treasured! add me to those who will eventually steal this idea for someone in my life.

Jun 22, 2011

Wow, that was a lovely, lovely idea and brilliantly executed as always.

My dad turns 70 this year and I thought of stealing the idea for a moment. Then I remembered that my middle name's "procrastination"!

Jun 22, 2011

I adore this. I actually did the same thing for my mom's 60th a few years ago, although I didn't put it together as prettily as you did! I put all of hers into a scrapbook, but now I'm wishing I had done the envelope thing. Dang!

Also, I really want to hang out with your family sometime. I hope that's not too weird.

Jun 22, 2011

I. LOVE. THIS. And will be stealing for my dad's 60th in a few years. Thank you.

Jun 22, 2011

I am so stealing this for my husband's 40th next year! What an amazing gift - your dad is so lucky to have such great kids!

Jun 22, 2011

Wow!!! Such a great gift. Love it. Your Dad must have loved it.

Jun 22, 2011

What a fantastic idea! I have tears imagining him reading them. What a treat!

Jun 22, 2011

My dad is turning 60 in August. I might need to steal this idea.


I adore projects like this!!!

Rachel C
Jun 22, 2011

I haven't even read any of the memories and I have teary eyes! What a wonderful gift! If someone did that for me I would probably cry about it all day. In a good way!

Jun 22, 2011

Wow. That is possibly the best birthday present idea I've ever heard. Loved the pictures of all of your dad's facial expressions.

Jun 22, 2011

So lovely for your dad to open all those nice memories! I really want to do this for someone too. x

Jun 22, 2011

This is just beautiful, Holly. What a wonderful gift.

Jun 22, 2011

Echoing all those comments above: what a great idea! You are truly amazing in your dedication to the people you love.

Jun 22, 2011

Love it. What a perfectly fabulous gift.

Jun 22, 2011

What a beautiful gift. I am in awe...I mean that

Jun 22, 2011

I think I might have to steal this for my husband's 40th this year.

Thank you so much for sharing it -- I love this idea so, so much, and I want to hug you for being such a great daughter to your dad.

Jun 22, 2011

What an awesome project. When my grandpa turned 70, I was in charge of similar project. His 4 kids, my grandma, and us five grandkids did a top 70 list of our favorite things about him or memories, one line only. I compiled it, printed it and had it sent to him via fedex since all us kids were all so dispersed that we weren't going to see him that day. The delivery and package were such a surprise I know it made him cry. If I ever do it again for someone else, I want to video tape the opening, reading, etc for posterity because man, what an oral history that would be!

Jun 22, 2011

Wow, I have to echo everyone else here in their awe of you. What a lovely gift. You are a wonderful daughter and friend to what sounds like an absolutely fantastic dad.

Jun 22, 2011

absolutely beautiful gift for your dad. i'm speechless.

Jun 22, 2011

I am not going to read through the comments prior to posting my own this time.

I am sitting at my desk at work crying (and eating a sammich, details) because OMG I am SO GOING TO DO THIS for my dad next May! Heck I might start NOW with the gathering! And I cannot imagine it being anythign other than WONDERFUL when it happens and that made me CRY.

I am a sap. Lovely Lovely Holly...good job!

Jun 22, 2011

Ok, NOW I have read the comments. Thank god I am not alone in the SAPPINESS

Jun 22, 2011

I was tearing up through the whole post, but that last picture of your dad, the expression on his face...well, that just did it for me.

What an amazing thing to do for your dad. It's so lovely. I will have to remember this for my own dad, because he'd love it just as much.

I love to reminisce too, especially with my family. And I love what you said about the memories giving you a different picture of your dad. I think about that, too, because sometimes I look at my parents and wish I could've known them when they were younger, before me. They must have been such cool people even then.

Savvy in San Francisco
Jun 22, 2011

What a truly special birthday present! I love this idea! What a wonderful way to reflect on all of the special memories from his last 60 years!

Renee from GA
Jun 22, 2011

WOW. I posted a picture of my father on facebook last weekend, and though he has been gone now for many years, I was so incredibly touched by memories of him that others posted, things I never knew or had forgotten. How terrific that you could share those moments with your dad! It's a present that you gave to him, and to yourself, too :)

Jun 22, 2011

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

Gagner Loto
Jun 22, 2011

A fantastic idea.
I'm not sure everybody can stop to cry when opening the first one..

Sensibly Sassy
Jun 22, 2011

wow, what a touching idea. I got all teary reading this. Your dad is lucky to have such thoughtful children

Jun 22, 2011

What a great idea! Thanks for sharing that with us.
Just curious, this may be inappropriate, but where was your Mom? A 60th birthday seems like a big milestone to miss. It is non of our (espcially my) business, just odd to see a family post from you without a mention of your mom. Perhaps I missed something.

Jun 22, 2011

This is such a thoughtful gift. Thanks for sharing!

Jun 22, 2011

I love this. I hope I have a child as lovely as you one day.

Also, I now feel contractually obligated to appear on your doorstep wielding a steak knife.

Jun 22, 2011

Balling. What a fabulous event for your dad to experience. I just can't think of anything else he could have loved more. Holly, you are something else, I tell ya. Thanks so much for sharing this, and your family with us... :)

Jun 22, 2011

What an absolutely beautiful idea!

Jun 22, 2011

Such a beautiful gift. I don't mind telling you that I'll probably have to use this idea at one point.

Jun 22, 2011

That's so, so wonderful. What a gift for not just him but for the rest of your family and for all the generations that come after. We are not just ourselves but a collection of impressions we leave on other people, and for your dad to have all that given back to him on a special birthday is just amazing.

Kerri Anne
Jun 22, 2011

There just really aren't enough adjectives to describe how wonderful (and thoughtful!) this gift was and is and forever will be.

And the pictures of your dad's reactions are just perfect.

Jun 22, 2011

wow. this is the most amazing and awesome gift ever. totally made me tear up. your dad is a lucky guy (who obviously did a great job as a dad). wow.

Jun 22, 2011

This is such an amazing idea. I wept over this post. Thank you for including pictures of your father reading a few.

Jun 22, 2011

LOVE THIS!!! How sweet! My mom is turning sixty this year, and this is such a wonderful gift idea. Quick question - how did you secretly get all of your father's friends' contact information?

Nothing But Bonfires
Jun 22, 2011

Thank you so much for all these nice comments, guys! To answer a few questions:

Natali -- I got the envelopes on ebay originally. Can't remember the seller but just search for "vintage airmail envelopes" and you'll find something similar.

Lynn -- my mum was in England. My brother Luke was doing some really important exams (university finals) so she was there to look after him and give moral support. My family is pretty used to being apart from each other, even on special occasions!

Aileen -- I had a lot of the email addresses for family, but I asked my mother for all the ones I didn't have, and then I asked some of the people I emailed to pass the message on to other people they were in contact whose email address we didn't have.

And all, yes, please feel free to steal this idea! Absolutely! Just let me know how it goes -- I'd love to know.

Jun 22, 2011

Holly -- might we work out some sort of arrangement whereby I could adopt you? Any capacity will do! You are obviously an amazing daughter, sister, wife. Gosh, what sweet stuff you are made of and the way you wove the fibres of your Dad's 60 yrs together for this treasured gift. Give yourself a wee pat on the back, girl. You've earned it!

Jun 22, 2011

Just lovely. Makes me miss my dad so much. It's a testament to your dad that he has all those people with great memories of him and also to you for being such a swell kid to acknowledge it in such a special way.

Well done.

Jun 22, 2011

Incredible! What a wonderful, thoughtful gift!!!!

Jun 22, 2011

Your presentation was beautiful!!

I was at my mother-in-law's house this past Christmas and found a little journal that was on the coffee table. For some reason I picked it up and flipped it around, and...long story short, my husband had done this very thing for his mom. It was a journal pasted with letters from her friends and family, illustrated by him, and it was so fun to read. She was very surprised by it, and I was surprised finding it.

Moral of the story: My husband is awesome and so are you.

Jun 22, 2011

P.S. Your father is adorable.

Jun 22, 2011

Like! (Well, LOVE really.) What a happy thing. And now I'm REALLY serious about the adoption thing.

Jun 22, 2011

Holly, I have already set this in my calendar to remind me in a year and a half to send out an email to my dad's friends so I can do it for his 60th birthday. Thank you for such a wonderful idea. Where did you get those envelopes? They are awesome!

Jun 22, 2011

I'm not crying...I've just got something in my eye. What a terrific idea; thanks for sharing.

Jun 22, 2011

So lovely. And perfect that you captured his expressions and response in real time. Filing this one away, for certain.

Jun 22, 2011

You are amazing!! This is the sweetest idea ever. I love that you also posted pics of your father reading some of them. This is just incredible!!

By the way, I saw you and your husband at Target in Colma/Serramonte/whatever once a long while ago. I kept thinking "Did I go to high school with that person? Where do I know her from?!!" and then I realized that I recognized you from your blog!! You were gone at the point..

Anyway, great gift. You have written before about your ambivalence about child-rearing. Let me say that projects and gifts like this are going to make you the best mama ever..

Hope that make sense..

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