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.


Aug 17, 2013

Wawww this is such a beautiful gift !
So touching, your dad is lucky :).
I keep the idea in mind, thank you <3

Aug 17, 2013

Jesus christ, this is soooo awesome!!!! if only I saw this like 3 months ago I would have done this to my dad for his 50 bithday too :( well I guess I'll have to keep this idea in my head for another 10 years...
Damn, this is like best present ever!

Aug 20, 2013

Oh what a beautiful idea. I am from New Zealand so this lovely gift idea as gone international LOL. I have a gorgeous mum who so deserves this, but I also have a 17 year old daughter who has been through a difficult time this year and I was wondering what I could do that would be special so she knows she is very much loved. This is prefect thank you.

Aug 25, 2013

I'm planning my mums 60th for October n was thinking of a book of her 60years, abit like 'this is you life' but your idea is so simple but just beautiful x lovely story n bet ur dad was so proud

Aug 26, 2013

Super girl! Wish I could do that to my mom. Her 60th birthday is already next week, August 31! Hmmmmm.... I'm so B-R-O-K-E! Huhuhu

Aug 26, 2013

Wow, so special and a birthday you all will never forgot...another special memory

Aug 26, 2013

Wow, so special and a birthday you all will never forgot...another special memory

Sep 04, 2013

Well last night when my husband requested no surprise party for his 60th next month I was stumped what to do. I had a dream about doing something like this and now that I've seen the response and your method, the email and Facebook posts are out there. Thanks for sharing. He'll be surprised!

Mitchell Fahrer
Sep 10, 2013

When i first saw this the other day I thought what a neat idea. But then I hesitated, because I only had a couple of days before my significant others birthday to send this out. But three days before her birthday I changed my mind and figured I'd go for it. I will tell you that I have received the most wonderful notes from so many people that I know this has already exceeded my expectations, and she will cherish this forever. Would have been nice if I could have had the handwritten notes from everyone, but instead I had them emailed to me and I copied them over onto note paper and put each one into a separate envelope. Perhaps not quite as personal as I would've liked, but all in all I think still very effective. I'll let you know after Thursday!

Mitch Fahrer
Sep 11, 2013

Just wanted to add that I thought this was a great idea. But by the time I found it on the web it was a bit late to have everyone send personal handwritten notes. I almost scrapped the project but decided at the last minute to simply go with having everyone email me their notes.

I had already purchased note "kit" some time ago that was just sitting around, but it had note paper, card stock to mount the notes to, foil stickers, etc. I then printed each note with an attractive font and made them look like they had been handwritten. Tomorrow is my significant others 60th birthday.... I think she is just going to love this! Thanks for the wonderful inspiration!

Charmi Patel-Pena
Sep 15, 2013


Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know I have thoroughly stolen your idea. My mother has always gelt a little under appreciated...and she is THE go to person in our family/community for so many things. I know people appreciate all she does for them, though the words are not always there. With her 60th approaching, this is the perfect gift for her. She will LOVE it, and I thank you for giving me the idea that will fill her heart right up.

Amanda Wilson
Sep 22, 2013

I just wanted to let you know how inspiring I thought this was!!! I loved it so much that I also did it for my dad's 60th birthday!! I made sure to link it back to you. Thank you thank you THANK YOU!

Hayley Jeffrey
Sep 26, 2013

Wow!! What a fab idea, very touching and I think anyone would love this as a gift!! :)

Leilane Amano
Sep 27, 2013

Tears from Brasil.. such a beautiful idea!

Sep 28, 2013

wow, wow, wow - incredible idea. Will do it for my mom's 70th - can't wait :-)) THANK YOU!

Sep 30, 2013

I love this idea! I want to do it for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary but I am too excited about it to wait two more years so I'm going to do it for their 39th :)

Oct 02, 2013

Beautiful Idea!!! I can't wait to try this someday! I loved seeing the pictures of your dad and his reactions! Made me cry... Life is a beautiful gift and those who surround us and share memories of our adventure are added gifts!

Oct 04, 2013

What a wonderful idea and so creative. I too shed a tear reading it. My good friend and her siblings did that for their mother when she turned 75 and put them in a book form. They did this because she had lost her home and to a fire and her husband sadly died days later from exposure to the cold as they sat and watched their house burn to the ground. So, they lost all their photo memories and they wanted to give her sometime to have as a replacement for them. But your idea is so cute and original.

Oct 05, 2013

Thanks for this great idea! I'have done this to my father in his sixty birthday. It was yesterday! I've discovered a lot of things that I didn't know about my father. I cried, laugh, it has been wonderful. Thanks, thanks, thanks!!!

If you want I have pictures of it!!

Oct 13, 2013

I love this idea so much I'm trying to do it for my own father. Thanks for putting this idea out there.

Oct 15, 2013

I just wanted to say THANK YOU so much for the great idea and comprehensive post! Because of this I am doing the same thing for my dad's 70th birthday and you have helped with so much of the hard stuff, like what to say in the email you sent out, etc. Thank you, thank you again!

Oct 16, 2013

You are a wonderful daughter. How I wish my two 'sons' would think for doing this for my next birthday!

Oct 21, 2013

This is an extraordinarily, thoughtful idea!!! It can be as elaborate or simple as you can manage. To be honest, this kind of collective memory sharing usually happens when someone passes away. Creating this gift NOW truly makes it about the person you want to honor. I can't think of a better gift... because everyone wants to be remembered!!! Thank You so much for sharing!

Oct 25, 2013

Thank you so much for sharing this! My Dad turn's 60 in a few month & I am totally stealing the idea. I cried reading this it made me so happy. What a wonderful bonding experience too!

Kelley Appleby
Nov 15, 2013

I am so very thrilled I stumbled upon this - what a lovely way to honor your sweet Dad! ;) I like many others who read this entry and wrote to you; an going to also borrow this dear gesture ... my wonderful mom is turning 70 in a few months and this is perfect!! My sister and I lost our father last Summer we didn't know him well because of a divorce when we were both small. We held a memorial for him and had close friends of his we met during his illness spread the word that we wanted to collect anyone's memories and recollections of our father...thankfully, hundreds came in time... it was amazing and helped us feel incredibly much closer and connected to him.. I think your plan is so brilliant. because I couldn't help thinking that if only my Dad had known how many people ADORED him, he would have been awestruck. thanks again for sharing.

Nov 23, 2013

Someone pinned this and I'm so very thankful. My mom turns 60 next November and I would love to do this for her. Thankfully I found it early enough to have plenty of time to accomplish it! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

Rabia @TheLiebers
Dec 09, 2013

This idea is AMAZING! I am going to use it for my parent's anniversary coming up in a few years. Your father raised some pretty awesome kids!

Dec 10, 2013

I ran across this on Pinterest a year or so ago and pinned immediately - what a great idea! My two sister's and I are going to do this for my parent’s 35th anniversary coming up, thanks for the idea - so amazing!

Dec 16, 2013

Last year on my 60th birthday my very thoughtful daughter presented me with a stack of letters from friends from all over the world. 60 total. It was tearful and heart warming to read thoughts and reflections from family and long lost friends. One of the best gifts ever! I highly recommend making it happen!

Dec 27, 2013

This is awesome!!

Dec 30, 2013

We just did this for our mom's 50th birthday! Thanks for sharing such a neat idea. My mom was touched and thrilled to be receiving 50 letters.

Jan 29, 2014

Thank you for this amazing post. Because of it, my Mom received 70 envelopes filled with 70 memories, photos, notes, and cards for her 70th birthday. My entire family was so grateful for this idea!!

Jan 29, 2014

Thank you for this amazing post. Because of it, my Mom received 70 envelopes filled with 70 memories, photos, notes, and cards for her 70th birthday. My entire family was so grateful for this idea!!

Feb 04, 2014

this brought tears to my eyes, not only the letters, but also the photos,thanks for sharing, truly very sweet

Cláudia Mansur
Feb 05, 2014

Hi! I saw your idea a few months ago and I did something very similar to my father's 61 birthday (couldn't do it on the 60), I searched for some of his best friends from school (he didn't spoke to some of them for more than 40 years) and I also learned a lot about my dad and his youth. He just LOVED the letters, he wasn't able to read them at his party because it made him very thrilled... I am very happy with the great idea you gave me! And now they are all planning to meet this year! Thank you very much for sharing this online (I'm from Brazil and your message made the difference in our lives). Kisses!

Robin P
Feb 05, 2014

I saw this on Pinterest a while back, and used it as inspiration for my mom's 60th birthday. My sister and I contacted everyone we could think of and asked them for memories, letters, pictures etc., then we made them into a scrapbook. This was so much fun to put together, and even more fun watching her go through each page.

Feb 06, 2014

Such an awesome idea I was on pinterest looking for ideas for my mothers 60th birthday and LOVE this idea! as many of our family live a fair distance away I was wondering how I could still get them involved in some way even if they couldn't make it and this is a GREAT way to show my mom just how much people care even if they couldn't say it face to face thanks so much for sharing this awesome idea!!

Feb 16, 2014

Can we still this?

Oct 06, 2014


Nov 02, 2014

It is an amazing idea, & m soo doing this!My dad turns 50 nxt month!
Thank you so much for sharing1

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