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.


Oct 03, 2011

That is an absolutely wonderful idea. Another one with tears in her eyes!

Oct 03, 2011

amazing! such a super sweet memory you created for him.. kudos!!

Oct 03, 2011

Love this idea! My little brother is turning 30 this year. 1/2 the lifetime of memories, but I think it would still be so fun for such a milestone birthday! Thanks for the fantastic idea.

Oct 03, 2011

What a wonderful post that I found on Pinterest. I did something similar to this but the circumstances were different.

When my mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, I wanted her to have the opportunity to hear all the wonderful memories that people had of her. Too often, those memories are shared after the person has passed away. So, I wrote to some of her friends and asked them to write down some of the special memories that they had. I then read them to Mom in those final days. Those memories were comforting for us both then, and they continue to comfort me now that she is gone.

Andrea butler
Oct 03, 2011

shedding tears here...thinkong aboutmy own daddy as I see yours and theexpression on his face...just so beautiful and emotional...thanks for sharing this!

Stacy Teet
Oct 03, 2011

Yep, I'm crying too! What a fabulous idea and wonderful gift to your father. Love this!

tasha roe
Oct 03, 2011

this is such an incredibly fantastic idea!!!
I MUST do this for my family!!

Carmen Olson
Oct 03, 2011

I did that for my dad 13 yrs ago when he turned 60. I put the letters in sheet protectors and then in a binder. The binder I covered with fabric and the front had three different aged photos of him over the years using photo transfer paper.

Oct 03, 2011

Such a lovely, sweet and thoughtful gift! My sister and I did something very similar for my parents 30th wedding anniversary a few years ago getting everyone to write in their memories of them over the years, when they first met them, their wedding, etc. and we put them all together in a book...they loved it! :) Looks like you dad had a very happy and special 60th birthday!!! Fun blog too!

Liesl :)

Oct 03, 2011

Wow. I stumbled upon this while surfing around on Pinterest. What a great idea! I know your Dad had the best birthday ever. What a kind and thoughtful thing to do for him.

Oct 03, 2011

that's lovely. very sweet. maybe i will for my dad's birthday this year or better yet, my grandpa. he won't be around much longer

Stuff and Nonsense
Oct 04, 2011

so sweet
and special

my siblings and i
did a similar thing
for our folks'
50th wedding anniversary

we put all the letters
notes and cards
in a big photo album

i think it is still
one of their very favorite gifts
of all time.


Jamie @ See Jamie Blog
Oct 04, 2011

Fantastic, beautiful gift.

Oct 04, 2011

beautiful idea. think im gonna do this for my parents anniversary....42 years of memories! thanks for sharing.

Oct 04, 2011

Congrats for putting it all together, what an amazing idea.

Oct 04, 2011

Such a wonderful idea! I did this about 15 years ago for my husband's 40th birthday. Something similar anyway, but not nearly as creative. What a precious gift, not just for your dad, but also for you and your sister. Precious. I hope you videoed his opening and reading them.

Oct 04, 2011

I love this idea! Thanks for much for the inspiration. My father is turning 60 in a few weeks and I have been looking for something meaningful to do for him. I may have to do something similar to this!

Oct 04, 2011

This is an amazing idea. I think we are going to do something similar for our grandmother for Christmas. She is dying of cancer and this is the perfect gift to make this Christmas so memorable for her. Thank you!

Oct 04, 2011

I just saw a link to your post on Pinterest. I love this idea! I may have to do this this for my Dad's upcoming 85th Birthday. Thanks for sharing.

Oct 04, 2011

I am so moved by this story. I am crying like a baby... You had best idea for a gift ever! Thank you for sharing!

Oct 04, 2011

I am crying like a baby...

Oct 04, 2011

Love this! My sister's did something similar for my 30th birthday so I know first hand how special the gift is! I may have to try this for the next big birthday for someone. :)

Oct 04, 2011

Such an amazing gift and wonderful way to share someone's life! I have a feeling this is going to be a favorite gift giving idea in the years to come.

Well done!

Oct 04, 2011

This is beautiful, and it made me tear up. What a wonderful gift for your dad! My dad already hit 60, but maybe I will steal the idea for his 65th :) Beautiful.

happy zombie
Oct 04, 2011

I found this post via Pinterest - love it so much. What a beautiful gift for your dad!

Jen V.
Oct 04, 2011

What a great idea! A super idea to show someone how loved they are. I am sure it was fun for everyone there when he opened the letters.

Oct 04, 2011

I just want to thank you so much for sharing this! You just gave me the most incredible and priceless idea for my parents for Christmas. This was a big year for my family. My parents both turned 60 and celebrated their 30th Wedding Anniversary. I wracked my brain and could not think of anything amazingly special to do for them for this momentous year. I wanted to throw a big shindig with all their friends but more than half live on the West Coast and it wouldn't be the same without them there. You are my new hero!!

I can only hope that I can achieve even half the success you did in this project. I hope you don't mind that I am going to attempt to borrow your idea. Just is the sincerest form of flattery!!

Thank you so much Holly!! I am so happy I "stumbled upon" your beautiful gift today. You made my day so thank you :)

Helen- Miss Mermaid
Oct 04, 2011

tears. down my face. what a beautiful gift <3

Oct 04, 2011

I am absolutely in love with this idea, how amazing of you to think of it! My dad turns 70 next year and I think I just might have to do it. I am always asking him to tell my favorite stories of him, but to hear it from others would be absolutely amazing. Thank you for the absolutely wonderful idea!

Erin Nicole
Oct 04, 2011

wow! this is incredible! i had tears in my eyes as I was reading this, what a special birthday present for your dad! it truly is incredible how many responses you got from everyone. i would love to be able to do something like this for my mom one day!

cheryl @ nefotlak
Oct 04, 2011

absolutely brilliant!!!
thankyou for sharing is wonderful idea.

cheryl @ nefotlak
Oct 04, 2011

.....*this.... wonderful idea.
brain not functioning well today obviously!!!

Oct 04, 2011


I can't tell you how amazing this idea is. I know everyone before me has told you that, but this has really made my night.

On top of the fact that my father is turning 60, he is also going to be going into an extremely serious surgery a few weeks before his birthday. Combining birthday wishes and encouragement letters will really just make his life.

Thank you again for sharing...this was by far the best/most thoughtful idea I have ever seen.

Oct 05, 2011

This a Wonderful wonderful idea. It made me teary eyed, but in a good way. My Dad is no longer with us, but I am sure he would have loved this for his 60th B'day.
Well done to you for coming up with this Brilliant idea!


Oct 05, 2011

My two beautiful daughters did this for my 50th birthday, and presented the letters in a lovely book during a surprise luncheon at my favorite restaurant! It was wonderful, heartfelt, and strangely humbling.
I took their idea and did the same thing for our pastor at his 10th anniversary celebration at our church. He loved it.

Oct 05, 2011

This is awesome! Where did you get the envelopes? I'd like to do this for my mom's 60th coming up in a few months (can I steal your idea?) and also, how long did it take for you to collect all of your responses? ...just so I have time to put everything together

Oct 05, 2011

This is so great! My dad turns 70 next year and I'm going to try something like this because he would love to go down memory lane. Thank you so much for this wonderful idea and for laying it out so clearly. I hope your dad is blessed with many more years.


I'm dying. Ok... not dying, but I'm trying desperately (at 25 weeks pregnant) not to sob uncontrolably at work.

This is THE greatest birthday gift idea I've ever heard. How amazing would it be to receive all of these letters.

Dean Keyes
Oct 05, 2011

What an absolutely lovely,thoughtful, caring gift to give your father. You are a very special daughter. Thanks for sharing the details so beautifully.

Oct 05, 2011

THIS IS BRILLANT! :) thank you so much for sharring this idea!


Wow, what a beautiful and thoughtful gift. Something he will have forever. Thank you for sharing this. Great blog!

Mary xo

Susan Sidoriak
Oct 05, 2011

Simply beuatiful. Had to share. Thank you!

Oct 05, 2011

What an amazing ideal. Did you order them chronologically or not? I think I will do this over and over for people I love. How incredible!!!!

Oct 05, 2011

I just saw this pinned on Facebook, which led me to your blog. The look on your dad's face is just amazing. I've obviously never met your dad but I can tell from this post how loved he is. It makes me miss my own dad so much and want to stop everything and give him a big hug. Thank you for sharing!

Oct 05, 2011

I just saw this pinned on Pinterest, which led me to your blog. The look on your dad's face is just amazing. I've obviously never met your dad but I can tell from this post how loved he is. It makes me miss my own dad so much and want to stop everything and give him a big hug. Thank you for sharing!

Oct 05, 2011

Oh that is just so lovely! I wish I had seen this perhaps a couple weeks earlier. My dad's birthday is in a couple weeks but I don't think I could get this done in time. Oh I have to do this for him too! Thank you so so much for sharing. Your story plus the pictures of your dad put me to tears! Simply lovely!

Oct 05, 2011

That's just a gorgeous gorgeous idea and I am sure something you will all treasure! Good on you!

Oct 05, 2011

This is such a wonderful dad has been through a lot in the last couple of years and his up comiing 55th birthday would be very suiting to remind him how much we all love him and how much he means to everyone in his life!

Kat Forsyth
Oct 06, 2011

I found this via Pinterest, and I think it's amazing. My Dad's 70th is next month, and I am so 100% stealing this idea! My only problem is they'll all have to be emailed, because the postal service where I live is shocking, and half of them would probably get lost and we'd never know!

Danielle Daws
Oct 06, 2011

Oh wow... what a BRILLIANT idea! Thank you so much for sharing!

Oct 07, 2011

This is one of THE most thoughtful gifts I have ever heard about! What an amazing gift to give someone! I think people wish & hope to have people like you in their lives- people who show their love in such fun ways! Stealing this idea:)


This is so beautiful. Totally tearing up. Have a great weekend.


This is so beautiful. Totally tearing up. Have a great weekend.

Oct 07, 2011

Beautiful idea! My dad is turning 60 next year and you can better believe we're going to try this! Thanks for the inspiration, and a happy happy 60th to your sweet dad!

Oct 07, 2011

Made mde cry to but what a brill idea I love it, sure beats a box of hankies or new undies : )

Oct 07, 2011

What an amazing gift! Well done!

Liz Roadman
Oct 07, 2011

What an amazing gift! I think i will do this for my mom's birthday.

Oct 08, 2011

Thank you.

Lindsey M
Oct 08, 2011

I cried, just saying...

That was incredible. A daughter's love for her father is never ending. I lost my dad almost two years ago, but I'm chuckling to think what his eight siblings would have submitted had I gotten to do this for him on his 60th!!

Oct 09, 2011

Grat gift...i think I'll do this thing for my father. Thank for sharing

Oct 10, 2011

oh my gosh.... I think I'm going to cry!!! What a lovely idea, your father is very lucky to have such a creative and thoughtful child. C: Definitely going to have to try this for my parents in a few years!!!

Theresa Manriquez
Oct 10, 2011

I just happened to stumble along your blog from pinterest... AND WOW. Now i'm crying. LOL. THIS IS AMAZING. You are a GREAT daughter. My dad will turn 60 this year too. THANK YOU FOR THE IDEA!! <3


What a lovely lovely idea.

I have just sent the call out email to my dad's friends and family. I hope we get as good a response as you did!

Sandi Leonard
Oct 11, 2011

This is the best. I so want to do this for my hubby.

Megan - Best of Fates
Oct 11, 2011

That's a FABULOUS present - I'm totally going to steal the idea one day!

Oct 11, 2011

Just found this via Stumble Upon. Love the idea - I did something similiar for my wife's 40th birthday earlier this year. A presentation box with 40 envelopes. Each envelope with a month printed on the front. She is currently opening 3 (or 3 and a bit for some months!). So her pressie lasts all year till her 41st! Each envelope has a postcard containing a picture of her - at various stages (as a baby/with parents/grandparents/friends/hubby (me!)/our kids/first car etc). The back of each postcard contains either a poem/thought about the picture or at special times throughtout the year (eg the day she gave birth to each of our kids!) a direction to look for a hidden gift (eg. jewelry). She loves it!

Halfway Between
Oct 12, 2011

This may possibly be the sweetest thing I've ever read. Hats off to you; I suspect a lot of people will be inspired by this idea. Lovely :)

Oct 12, 2011

What a truly great idea, as a 28y/o with older parents, well, their 54 and 55, I've got a few years till i'm going to do this for them. Bravo on the execution, its literally perfect.

As a son that now lives 3500 miles away from Wales in Saudi, I was home for a Christmas on leave and asked them what they wanted, they of course said nothing, but a short trip to Tesco and I got them a little note book. I spent a few days creating a b.o.t.t.y. book (book of a thousand thank you's) OK so there was only 150 or so in there, but I wrote all over the pages and cover. Using each as a different way to say thank you for things they had gave to me, instilled in me, taught me, events they had been there for me with.

I hid the book away in the house and finished my Christmas leave, returning to KSA before sending them a cryptic message for them to find the book. would have loved to have seen the reactions, but alas...

Me and my wife now have a 9month old daughter who is simply astonishing, would love for her to grow up in the same mindset as some of the beautiful people of this world.

everyone have a loverly day.


Oct 12, 2011

Wow what a wonderful idea!! I'm sure your Dad was very grateful for the gift of memories you gave him. Awesome!!

Oct 13, 2011

omg thank you for this amazing idea!

Nicole B
Oct 14, 2011

Wow, what a wonderful idea! And so sweet, meaningful and perfect for your dad's 60th bday. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

Oct 14, 2011

Wow. This is absolutely beautiful. What a tribute and something that means more than any other gift could possibly. Thank you for sharing. I just love the photo of your dad reading them. I am posting about this today. Beautiful.

Oct 14, 2011

You are such sweet daughter! This is such an amazing idea! Thank you so much for sharing!!

Kate QP
Oct 14, 2011

My mother turns 60 next year !!! This is such a great original idea that I ll probably try to follow !!!
I hope it turns out as sweet as yours !!!

Kate QP
Oct 14, 2011

My mother turns 60 next year !!! This is such a great original idea that I ll probably try to follow !!!
I hope it turns out as sweet as yours !!!

Oct 14, 2011

What a wonderful idea and such a touching tribute for your dad. Thanks so much for sharing.

1001 Things I Love
Oct 14, 2011

Beautiful idea, and such gorgeous design. found your site from stumbleupon and so glad i did!

1001 Things I Love
Oct 14, 2011

Beautiful idea, and such gorgeous design. found your site from stumbleupon and so glad i did!

Oct 15, 2011

What a really, really brilliant idea. I'd love to do this for our parents. Great story - thanks for sharing it!

Oct 15, 2011

What a beautiful idea. Someone very close to me just died, leaving behind two children who are like siblings to me. I think this would be something wonderful for them....have people write memories of their mother.

Oct 16, 2011

What an AWESOME idea! :) My dad turns 65 in December...I'm TOTALLY doing this!! And he is a huge airplane fan so these airmail envelopes would be so COOL!! :) You are a great daughter! :)

Oct 17, 2011

A completely fab idea, So very thoughtful and a gift that will bring back so many special memories at the same time as creating a new one.

Oct 18, 2011


I just stumbled upon your sight using I love this idea. I might have to do something like this for my parents.

Oct 19, 2011

I came across your blog on StumbleUpon and found this post. This is such an amazing and thoughtful gift. Thank you for posting it.

Oct 19, 2011

Goodness me. What an awesome idea! You did a very special thing. Thank you so much for sharing it with us...

...and yes, my eyes did well up with tears.

Annunci Incontri Terni
Oct 20, 2011

Amazing idea for a gift. I guess my mom or dad would be in tears for days if I'd give them 60 years of memories in 60 letters. Great packaging as well ... it looks awesome

Oct 20, 2011

I followed this link from Pinterest~~and I'm so very glad that I did! What an absolutely CLEVER and LOVING idea!! My mother-in-law is turning 90 in a couple of months, so I will borrow your idea for her!! Thanks for sharing this //signed// your newest follower! :-)

Oct 20, 2011

Hi Holly,

What a lovely idea. I pinned your idea on pinterest. And I;m really glad I did. My mother in law is turning 60 next year may and this is the perfect gift for her. I allready see her cry when I think of giving it to her.

So thank you so much for this precious gift-idea.

I also linked you up today on my blog. It's in Dutch, I sure know that al lot of bloggers in Holland would love this idea.

So thank you again.


Marieke from Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Oct 20, 2011

Wow, this is one of the best birthday ideas I have ever heard about. Happy 60th Birthday to your Dad!

Betsy at Zen Mama
Oct 21, 2011

Very cool! I can't think of a better present than giving someone memories of a lifetime!!

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