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.


Jun 22, 2011

Well, this is just the greatest idea ever. EVER EVER EVER.

Jun 22, 2011

perfect. happy belated to your dad!

Jun 23, 2011

Oh Holly, I am all TEARY reading this! What a wonderful gift. My brother and I did a similar project for my parents' 30th anniversary, but this is above and beyond.

And I love that someone said they hope they have a child as wonderful as you one day -- too true. Your parents are lucky to have your four!

Jun 23, 2011

This is such an amazing idea. I teared up at the pictures of your dad reading the letters. Definitely stealing this for my mum!!!

Jun 23, 2011

Aww, I am tearing up a little bit while working at the coffee shop. What a great idea for a super meaningful gift! Love your dad's face as her reads some of them.

Jun 23, 2011

Lovely. Just lovely.

Jun 23, 2011

i just love LOVE this idea of yours!

Franca Bollo
Jun 23, 2011

Oh, wah ... just lovely.

Jun 23, 2011

Darling Holly,
I will be 60 next year. I wish you were in charge of my birthday celebration. You are a charming, extremely amusing and very thoughtful young lady. I am sure your parents are very proud.

Pretzel Thief
Jun 23, 2011

I, too, got teary. Gah!

Such a beautiful, thoughtful, INCREDIBLE gift...! You rock the casbah, dude!

And like many have said before me, I'm also stealing the idea for my mum's 60th (which'll be in 2015, God willing).

Jun 24, 2011

What a terribly sweet thing to do for your dad. I hope to do something similar for my parents on one of their future birthdays. Cheers to you Holly!

Jun 24, 2011

What a beautiful idea! Usually all these wonderful stories come out at someone's funeral. What a gift for your father to hear them now!

(That sounds morbid. I hope you understand what I mean.)

Camels & Chocolate
Jun 25, 2011

Best Daughter of the Year Award goes to you. Cutest idea ever--and perfect execution as always!

Jun 26, 2011

Wow! I can't imagine a more thoughtful gift to have given your Dad, you showed your love in such an amazing and imaginative way! Thanks for sharing!

Dr. Maureen
Jun 27, 2011

That is the loveliest, most thoughtful gift I have ever heard of. I think I will try to steal it for my parents' 50th anniversary in two years.

Jun 28, 2011

Um, I think you might be the best daughter of all time. And this is definitely the best 60th bday present of all time. Brilliant!

Roxanna (miguelina)
Jun 29, 2011

I wish I had do this for my dad. What a lovely, lovely gift.

Jun 30, 2011

Good God, woman. This is the awesomest birthday present I ever came across. You are one super daughter!

Jun 30, 2011

what a beautiful idea! how very thoughtful :) <3

TEARING UP. I hope you don't mind if I borrow this for my own mother's 60th.

You are too adorable for words.

Sadie Lankford
Jul 31, 2011

OMG! I cried reading this! I love it!!!

Summer D
Aug 10, 2011

What an amazing idea. I have never seen your blog before, but will be coming back again.

It is so nice to do something so sentimental for someone you love. It is more precious than anything. I am sure you...and your Dad...must be very proud. And, judging by all the comments you have received on this post, a number of others would agree!!

Aug 10, 2011

This has got to be one of the most touching things I have read in a very long time, how wonderful a daughter are you!

Aug 12, 2011

had to come back to this post to say thank you for the inspiration. i sent a link to this entry to my dad and sister earlier this summer. and last week, on my mom's 60th birthday, she awoke to find her own stack of 60 years of memories. My dad put it out with the "breakfast" he'd made her - her favorite rocky road ice cream - and a box of kleenex. Then through out the next hour texted photos and funny little captions to me and my sister as my mom laughed and cried her way through all of the notes. She absolutely loved it. She teared up all over again when she called me to say thank you. Her words --- "Best birthday present ever."

Aug 19, 2011

I love this. Gave me a little flutter in my heart reading it!

Aug 19, 2011


my dad is turning 60 next month, and he's one of the people that is difficult to get a gift for just because he's picky so when my sister and I came upon your article it was the best idea ever. may I ask your permission for us to use this for our dad's birthday...although I'm wondering if we are as fortunate as you are to get 60 letters. Hopefully we can.

Thanks again for a wonderful idea.

Aug 20, 2011

Totally want to steal this idea...missed it for my dad's 60th, but can be for 62, right????

Aug 20, 2011

What a brilliant idea...I have my mom's 70th coming up in a couple of years and would love to use this idea. The photos added so much..tears were in my eyes!

Gems xx

Aug 20, 2011

My parents will be 48 next year. Although that is not a significant number like 60, it's just too good of an idea to pass up. Thanks for the great idea!

Aug 21, 2011

WOW - this is AWESOME!! I just stumbled upon this and it's made my day. I'm definitely filing it away to use for the future!

Thank you!!

Helen Spencer
Aug 22, 2011

I have to tell you how this resonated with me. I have Spent the last year setting up a free family life story website where folks can capture the memories of their life in chronological order on a timeline. Why? Because my mum died and I realised I knew little about her life or the experiences which had shaped her. Her stories had gone with her, and I was determined that my own kids would have a record of my life, my feelings and my relationships to look back at when I'm no longer around. The sweetest memories I hold are those from my childhood, so my kids' lives are also recorded this way, laid out with words & pics in the order they happen!
It may prove abuseful resource for your readers, so here's the link I blog about family nostalgia and childhood memories too at Helen, Founder

Helen Spencer
Aug 22, 2011

I have to tell you how this resonated with me. I have Spent the last year setting up a free family life story website where folks can capture the memories of their life in chronological order on a timeline. Why? Because my mum died and I realised I knew little about her life or the experiences which had shaped her. Her stories had gone with her, and I was determined that my own kids would have a record of my life, my feelings and my relationships to look back at when I'm no longer around. The sweetest memories I hold are those from my childhood, so my kids' lives are also recorded this way, laid out with words & pics in the order they happen!
It may prove abuseful resource for your readers, so here's the link I blog about family nostalgia and childhood memories too at Helen, Founder

Aug 24, 2011

Wow. I'm only 23 years old and hope that someday my child will be as considerate and interested in my own history as you are with your father. Creative, amazing idea. Thank you for sharing it with the world.

Kristl Story
Sep 09, 2011

Love, love, love this idea! My parents both just passed their milestones birthdays, but I'll remember this for the next big one!

By the way, where did you get the envelopes?

Sep 10, 2011

That is absolutely beautiful! What a lovely gift.

Sep 10, 2011

I hope I leave a mark in the world that I have many friends share many memories of my life with them. What a great project and one great for you to get to know your dad more than what you experience through others eyes.

Sep 11, 2011

What a wonderful idea. I think I will do this for my mom when she turns 60 in a few years!#

Sep 11, 2011

What a wonderful idea. I think I will do this for my mom when she turns 60 in a few years!#

Nikki Self
Sep 12, 2011

wow what a fantastic idea, so thoughtful, your Dad must have had the best birthday ever reading all those memories. Very inspiring.

rosemary topolovich
Sep 12, 2011

what a great idea. love it. he looks so happy

rosemary topolovich
Sep 12, 2011

what a great idea. love it. he looks so happy

rosemary topolovich
Sep 12, 2011

what a great idea. love it. he looks so happy

Sep 12, 2011

This made me cry! I've wanted to write a book of short stories about my daddy, but this would be so much more fun. Thank you for sharing this!

Sep 12, 2011

This is truly amazing!!

Sep 12, 2011

I am a nostalgia lover as is my father. I am saving this for his sixtieth birthday in a few years. What a great idea!

Julie from Just Jules

Sep 13, 2011

Wow, this is beautiful! What a fantastic gift! Thank you for sharing!


I truely belive you couldn't make him a better present.

The young people still like more geeky presents or more touchable things, but a man of his age that is really the best preset you could give him.

Isn't he the luckyest father in the world? :)
Good job!

Sep 16, 2011

This is a wonderful idea and one that I incorporated into my parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Included in the invitation to their party was a note to write a memory about my Mom and Dad, and specifically about them as a couple. All of the friends and family members that attended the party brought their memories along and we put them all together into a book. Others who couldn't attend the party sent their memory page to be included later. My parents tell me that they get so much pleasure from re-reading those notes and stories since their anniversary (almost 4 years ago now).

Sep 16, 2011

This is such a special and unique idea. What a treasure for your dad!

Claire, Cheshire Mum
Sep 17, 2011

Inspirational! I may just have to borrow this,thanks so much for the idea, your dad must have been thrilled.

Mitali Banerjee
Sep 17, 2011

Beautiful gesture... You make your parents proud. Thanks for sharing this. God Bless!

Sep 18, 2011

I stumbled upon this, and I very rarely comment on blogs. I just wanted you to know that this brought tears to my eyes. One of the sweetest gifts I have ever seen someone to receive, and the pictures of your dad reading and laughing just made it more wonderful. Your dad is a lucky man!

Sep 20, 2011

This is so cool! My parents are both turning sixty next year! I'm going to talk to my SIL (we're planning this together) about doing this for Mom and Dad too! Thanks for the wonderful idea!!!

PS. Your dad does not look sixty!

Carolyn O'Brien
Sep 21, 2011

My husband turns 65 this year. I am definitely going to use this idea.
Thank you so much!

Sep 21, 2011

oh man, my eyes are filled with tears right now... what a fantastic idea! i too have a very special relationship with my pops, and we are both extremely nostalgic/melancholy... i can't help but toy with the idea of doing this for my dad's 70th birthday, he would love it so much! thanks for the inspiration and for sharing this wonderful gift you gave your dad =)

Deanna G.
Sep 22, 2011

Dying! Crying at my desk, lol. Awesome, awesome idea. Love how you captured your dad in this moment too. You are beyond awesome. Wowww.

Sep 24, 2011

Thank you so much. This is a great idea :)

Sep 26, 2011

Usually i read, and thats it.....but this time had to coment....CONGrATS for a fantasticcccccc idea..i will be a copy LOVED!!!

Sep 26, 2011

wow, as a 16 year old girl when i think of holidays or birthdays i think Wal-Mart. grab a card and a gift. i was most deff the odd ball out. My family is very creative and often have "home-made" gifts when i ALWAYS have store bought gifts. But this, i cannot wait for a member of my family to turn 60 or get up there in age so that i can contact all their friends and our family. they would be shocked that they didnt get a receipt with there gift and the fact that it came from the ones that mean the most to them. this is very inspiring. i cant wait to get started(:

Sep 26, 2011

I was truly inspired by your story. That was a beautiful gift. Thank you for sharing.

Susan Valentin
Sep 27, 2011

This is by far the most amazing idea I have ever heard....

Sep 27, 2011

I absolutely love this idea. My dad passed away nine years ago but he would have loved this. Quite moving to read this post.

Sep 27, 2011

Wow! This is such a beautiful gift! Touching really, so many different variations that you could do with this as well. You have given me a building block for some awesome gift ideas... thank you for sharing a truly thoughtful gift idea as well as a touching story!

Sep 28, 2011

Wow, best birthday idea ever!
The pictures show his sheer joy of reliving those memories.
Thanks for sharing.

Sep 28, 2011


Sep 28, 2011

awesome, awesome project!! what a treasure for your father to have!! :)

Sep 28, 2011

What a wonderful thing to do for and with your dad. My dad died at 55, about 15 years ago and he too was nostalgic. You can really see the joy on your dad's face. Good job!

Sep 29, 2011

I really liked this idea!...


BEST idea for a birthday!
We did something similar for my in-laws 40th wedding anniversary and asked people what they liked best about them as a couple.
it was giant hit!
Love the idea for a birthday present.

Oct 01, 2011

Awesome story and a great idea. Thanks for sharing

Karen - kmprimitives
Oct 02, 2011

Goodness this was a fantastic post.
I found it through Pinterest and I'm so glad I did.
My husband turns 70 in January and this is a fantastic idea....we aren't having a large party and so if we can get little notes to him from friends and family it will be like he is there.
Thanks for the great post.

Sara @ Mom Endeavors
Oct 02, 2011

I just found this via Pinterest and absolutely LOVE this idea. And, in reading the comments, I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only one who cried!!! :)

Kate @ Songs Kate Sang
Oct 02, 2011

Oh, this is so precious. I absolutely love it. What a special gift to your dad.

Oct 02, 2011

I did something similar to this for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. My dad was career military so their friends are spread across the globe and most likely would be unable to attend a big reception in honor of the special occasion. I mailed a packet including a addressed, stamped anniversary cards to every one of their out of state family members and friends with instructions for them to mail the cards back before a specified date. While there was an expense associated with the cards and postage, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for everyone in hopes of boosting participation. The response was wonderful! I found a beautiful box that I stored all the cards until our little family celebration of their anniversary. Mom and Dad said they has a wonderful time opening each card and reading well wishes from all the people who had made impressions on their lives.

Lisa Douthit
Oct 03, 2011

I'd love it if my daughter could read this and get "ideas" for my 50th birthday coming up next June. However, I don't see any facebook or email links, to send it. Am I missing something?

Oct 03, 2011

AMAZING!!! I'm going to borrow this idea and tweak it a bit for my mother's 60th Birthday in May...Thanks for sharing!

oh amanda
Oct 03, 2011

What a gift! Tucking this away. My dad turns 60 in 5 years!

Brenda L.W.
Oct 03, 2011

I found this post on Pinterest (you've been pinned!)and just had to tell you how awesome this was! What a great gift, and what a lucky dad you have :)

Oct 03, 2011

what a beautiful idea for a birthday gift - reading this brought tears to my eyes.

Oct 03, 2011

DAMN! It was just my dad's 60th a few days ago!

Oct 03, 2011

absolutely amazing! I love this idea!!!

Oct 03, 2011

...this is so beautiful. My mother has been battling Leukemia for 2 years and her last treatment will be in January. I am hoping to use your idea and fill letters with words of encouragment as she begins her life again. Thank you for sharing!

Oct 03, 2011

Wow! I would do that for my mother – who is turning 85 soon – if I were not afraid in can be too much emotion!

Dani @ Cloud 8 ½
Oct 03, 2011

What an absolutely amazing gift!

Sandy Mosley
Oct 03, 2011

I don't have a website. I am so impressed with what you did. I come from a family of 12, and am the youngest. I turned 60 last year and would have loved something like this.
We have written alot of history about our parents. In this very way, getting people from there past, family members, friends,etc. to write these memories. My dad passed away on Oct 4, 1988 and my mom on Dec. 10, 2003. I am so grateful to have these memories to read over and over again. It reminds me of so many happy times. Make sure you have copies for each of you siblings. it will be a treasure to you after they are gone.

Oct 03, 2011

My college friends actually did something like this for me for my 21st birthday. They contacted all of my family and friends, even ones they didn't know, and had them all send in pictures, stories and/or letters. After collecting all of these they put them together into a beautiful wonderful scrapbook that I take with me everywhere I go. It reminds me of where I've come from and on some days that people love me. I don't live very close to any of those people any more and it's so important to have such wonderful reminders that people love you and care about you.

Oct 03, 2011

This is absolutely beautiful!

Oct 03, 2011

This is absolutely beautiful!

Ali Behan
Oct 03, 2011

I've just caught this on Pinterest and LOVE the idea. I wish I knew to do that for my Dad's 70th birthday last year. He's going to be 71 in 27 days, I wonder can I pull it off??? Would LOVE to try it! Thanks for the inspiration!

Ali in Dublin (Ireland)

Oct 03, 2011

I saw this on Pinterest and just wanted to tell you how amazing I thought it was. I think it was a brilliant idea and I'm so happy it was such a success.

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