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 21, 2011

This is oh so special. Thank you for sharing because my husband will be turning 60 and I will certainly use this idea. He is such a special man and this is such a special special idea to show him all the people who love him and may have a memory that he has ,maybe, relived....for better or for worse ha ha :)

Thanks so very much for sharing.

Oct 22, 2011

You are a very thoughtful daughter, clever, too! I only wish I had seen this earlier so I could have copied this for my Mum's 60th last week. Thank you for sharing the pics of your dad, too, it brought tears to my eyes!

Oct 22, 2011

THAT IS ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS! And as much as I'd like to do that for someone, I would love to be on the receiving end as well.

A Morning Grouch
Oct 22, 2011

I love this idea and your presentation was beautiful! And 60 is a LOT of memories, so good job getting all of that organized before his birthday. What a great memory for both of you.

Gill from New Zealand
Oct 23, 2011

This is just fantastic - we are doing it tomorrow morning for my Mum's 70th! I've just finished numbering & sorting 85 envelopes... got a few more but couldnt say no! I've made a special memory box for them to go in. Cant wait to see her reaction, altho I think we are in for a long 'reading' session.

Oct 23, 2011

I really enjoyed reading this :-)

Oct 24, 2011

I saw this on Pintrest. I like everyone else was moved to tears. Incredible.

Amanda Larson
Oct 25, 2011

What an amazing idea! My dad is past 60 already but maybe I will do this for 70! :)

Oct 26, 2011

Brilliant idea!
I hope it's ok to take one of your photos, to link back to you on our blog with interesting links:

Emma Ashby
Oct 27, 2011

LOVE this! My sister-in-law is doing this for my father-in-law for his 60th birthday next week! I can't wait to see how much he loves it! :]

Stephanie M
Oct 29, 2011

what an absolutely beautiful gift! I love it, and I too got tears reading so so SO neat!!!

Oct 30, 2011

This is RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME!!!! I need to pilfer this idea!!!! ;)

Oct 31, 2011

Wow I love this!! It made me laugh yet tear up. This is such a great idea and a wonderful gift!! I know your father loved this and I know down the road you'll be so happy you did this. :)

Nov 01, 2011

I am totally doing this my my bestie! She turns 30 next month!

Justine Bath
Nov 02, 2011

Wow. Thanks for sharing What a great idea. So going to do this.......will have to tweak it so it is 66 memories...pressure is on! 6 more to collect!!!

Nov 02, 2011

Wow, what a great idea. Thanks for sharing. My dad is turning 60 next month... you've got the wheels in my mind SPINNING!

Nov 03, 2011

I'm SO looking forward to doing this for my mom's birthday!!! I've been wanting to do something so special for her 60th. My Dad just has his 61st shortly before I read this. I was a few weeks too late! It might be nice for their wedding anniversary as well. Track down the people of their wedding party and as many people who were there.

Nov 04, 2011

I just came across this from pinterest and I am absolutley doing this for my fathers next birthday! I laughted and cried though reading this. Thank you so much for the wonderful idea!

Nov 05, 2011

I was searching the web for ideas on what to do for my fathers 74th birthday and came across your website. I loved this idea so my sister and I sent out an email to all his friends and within 2 days we had a mailbox full of letters for my dad. He's been battling esophageal cancer for 2 years and had to have his esophagus removed and has been in terrible pain for 2 years. He's lost 100 lbs and gets very down. I wanted to thank you because reading all his memories on his birthday was the best medicine we could have found for him. He loved it! It lifted his spirits and hopefully will give him strength to keep fighting. Thank you so much~~

Nov 06, 2011

Absolutely priceless idea. I swear I will use this one day on a very dear friend. Thanks so much for sharing.

Nov 06, 2011

Absolutely priceless idea. I swear I will use this one day on a very dear friend. Thanks so much for sharing.

Nov 06, 2011

absolutely adorable and endearing. You are a genius! I love this!

Neusinha Fusco
Nov 06, 2011

What a wonderful idea! I really like, I'M THINKING IN IT FOR THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY HUSBAND OF 60 YEARS IN 2013. thanks for sharing

Nov 07, 2011

I loved this so much that I am doing it for my dad's birthday in two weeks. I love the idea of using vintage airmail envelopes. Can you please please email me and let me know where I can purchase some. Thank you kindly.


Nov 07, 2011

Amazing! Reading this while in class and I have tears in my eyes! I hope I can make my dad feel loved and happy as much as you did :) You and your siblings are amazing :)

Nov 08, 2011

What a wonderful idea! My Dad and I used to love talking about the good old days as well and this is something that he would have absolutely loved!

Nov 08, 2011

I love this!!!

Nov 09, 2011

This idea brought me to tears. My Mom turns 60 next month and I would love to do this for her. Thank you so very much for such a wonderful, wonderful idea. :)

Nov 11, 2011

Very very beatiful!

Nov 11, 2011

Found this via pinterest, and we are doing this for my dad's 50th birthday celebration tomorrow. I think we have just about reached 50!!! Yeah! If not, I'll be coming up with a few more! lol Thanks for the inspiration.

Nov 12, 2011

great idea! is there anything that you wish you had done differently, or something that you didn't think to do that might have helped in some way?

Nov 12, 2011

I found this through Pinterest.... and I'm SO happy that I did.

Thank you so much for sharing this! I'm actually working on doing this for my father. I've sent out Facebook messages far and wide to collect the memories.

I just wanted to say thank you. I know my father is going to love it and I'm already enjoying "reading about him".

Nov 12, 2011

We did something similar to this for my grandmothers 75th birthday, only we compiled all the letters into a scrapbook. It was really great and she loved it!!

Nov 12, 2011

speechless..made me cry. what a profoundly and genuinely beautiful gift

Deborah K
Nov 14, 2011

I just found your blog via Silverbox Creative Studios. She had linked this post. This is the most wonderful gift. It brought tears to my eyes. I am so doing this for my Momma for her 70th birthday. Thank you for sharing this wonderfully amazing gift!

Nov 15, 2011

You know, My mom's had a rough couple of years, and her 50th is coming up. This would be a great idea. I think I'm stealing this. Thanks for the great story!


I just came across this idea on pinterest. Wow! Seriously fantastic and touching idea. I'm totally going to borrow this idea some year. Do you happen to recall where you got the envelopes? They absolutely make the gift that much more interesting.

ryan marie samuel
Nov 15, 2011

this is amazing. I'm verklempt!

Nov 15, 2011

I did this for my parent's 40th wedding anniversary, but instead of letters, I put all of the written memories from friends and family in a scrapbook. Now, you have reminded me that I need to do it again for my father-in-law's 80th birthday. I think I will do letters like you did. Thanks for a great idea!

Nov 15, 2011

Beautiful. Thanks!

Nov 16, 2011

Just found this post via a friends' pinterest!!
What amazing idea...but just absolutely loved how you presented it !!!

Me and my sister did this for my mom's 70th birthday, but in the form of a coffee table book. SHe had ALzheimers at the time and this was about the only gift we could come up with that would have pictures of all her friends over time.... and from many years ago and it brought back her memories of some. She sat with it for hours and hours to page through and for us it was so special to hear all the feedback from friends !!!

But I would LOVE to do same for my dad and this time will try to copy your idea !!!!!


Nov 16, 2011

I did something similar for my grandfather's 70th birthday many years ago. He had coached Babe Ruth League baseball for many, many years and I sent letters to former players asking for a memory, story, or just a "Happy Birthday". I sent letters to family and friends as well...all told a little over 150 letters went out and I got replies from 147! Blew me away! I made two scrapbooks (one for family and friends, and one for former players)with pictures, embellishments, and of course, the cards and letters that had come in for him. Until the day he died last year, it was one of his most treasured possessions. Not because I had made it, but because he loved reminiscing and reliving those times. Those scrapbooks are well worn because he would spend hours thumbing through them and each letter would send him off on another story.

Nov 16, 2011

I loved what you did for your dad. It was a great idea that truly honors your dads past and bring those who love him into the present. I bet this was the best birthday present he ever got! He is lucky to have such love in his life and to have you as his daughter.

Nov 17, 2011

WOW! I teared up reading this! This was such a thoughtful, loving thing to do for your dad! I hope you wouldn't mind if I did this for my Dad in a couple years too! What a great family you all are! Inspirational to say the least!!!

Nov 17, 2011

This is a fantastic idea! This is a gift of all gifts that will be remembered for a lifetime. I was teary eyed by the end. There is just so much thought and love put into this gift idea.

Nov 17, 2011

What a wonderful gift! A brilliant idea! You can see the happiness on your dad's face... :-)

Nov 17, 2011

What a wonderful gift! A brilliant idea! You can see the happiness on your dad's face... :-)

Nov 17, 2011

this is amazing...i got tears just reading this,your dad is so lucky to have a daughter like you.

Nov 18, 2011

I used your idea but put into a book for my mom because her hand are bad. she loved the book and her memories, thanks for the idea.

Nov 19, 2011

I love, love LOVE this!!!

Nov 21, 2011

What a beautiful gift! I have been thinking about doing something similar for my mom. She has passed away but my dad is still with us and I thought that for her one year anniversary, it would be lovely if their family and friends could write a beautiful memory about her for him to enjoy. This gives me a little excitement knowing your dad enjoyed this so much.

Thank you for sharing.

Nov 21, 2011

Thank you so much for inspiring me to do this for my mom's 50th birthday coming up! For any one of you who have done this before, can you tell me where to find so many airmail envelopes? I've seen some on ebay, but how do you find 50+ that look so similar and are the same size?! What is a good price for 50 of these guys? How long did it take for you to receive all your responses? I'm sure I've got plenty of time to do it, but don't want to start too early in case someone spills the beans on the surprise by accident. Thanks again! I just LOVE this idea!

Nov 22, 2011

How did you get everyone's email addresses? I would LOVE to do this, but not sure I could contact everyone.

Nov 22, 2011

wow this act is beyond amazing! you're father is so lucky to have you! :)

ava infante
Nov 22, 2011

Hello there! I saw your post on Pinterest...and thought this would be a great gift for my MIL (who is also of the nostalgic persuasion)...for when she turns 75 or 80 perhaps? thanks for sharing!

Nov 22, 2011

teary eyed after reading this :) loved the idea...and also how you wrote about it.

cortni bagby
Nov 22, 2011

That is AMAZING. I can't think of a more wonderful present...thank you for sharing this.

Nov 23, 2011

Today I'm at work feeling sick as hell. In Europe we call it gastroenteritis. I'm taking 4 differents pills.

Still crying while reading your story made feel nice again.
Better than all the meds.

Your gift is a gift of love for the world.
Thank you

Nov 23, 2011

Such awesome idea! Your father is very lucky to have you!
Thanks for sharing!

Nov 23, 2011

I just LOVE this! I am sitting here crying! What a beautiful post. I am one that likes to always make my mom feel so so super special in any creative "special" way I can. This will be her all time favorite I think!

Martini Mom
Nov 23, 2011

This is amazingly perfect timing. My mom's turning 60 in February and I've been trying to come up with something creative and meaningful for her gift. This could very well be it. Thanks for the idea!!

OMG this is the most wonderful gift I think I've ever seen... truly! What a sweet and unique and such a heartfelt idea! I love the photos and can just imagine the emotions your dad felt reading each letter. Something he'll treasure always I'm sure! Ree x

Nov 24, 2011

I absolutely LOVE this idea!! We did it for an old piano teacher when she turned 90!! They contacted as many old students they could find and wanted us all to send a birthday card. Not sure if it was ever accomplished (I was states away by this point) but a great idea nonetheless. Love it.

Nov 25, 2011

THANK YOU for such a fabulous idea!!!! My grandad turns 100 next August, and he's kinda difficult to buy for, but he'd really love this. He writes a lot of letters and I'm sure he'd be over the moon to get something like this on his big day. Sadly all of his contemporaries have gone, but he loved to travel and has younger friends all over the world (he only gave up travelling aged 97!). I can't thank you enough for this wonderful idea. You're a lovely person.

Nov 25, 2011

Just reading this made me take gulps from the overwhelming sense of emotions that began to form in hearing how you took so much time and effort to do this for your dad. It was wonderful and beautiful all at the same time, but the thought of how much joy this must have brought your father and how deep it must have penetrated his soul, i think it was very inspirational. I just might be able to do the same thing once my parents have accumulated 60 years of memories and friends lol! Thanks.

Nov 25, 2011

Love the idea! I hope to try to do the same thing for my mom next year on her 76th birthday.

Nov 26, 2011

I come from a large family (11 children) and there are several of us (6) that have already turned 60. So, it's difficult to "celebrate" in a big fashion every year, especially since we live in many different states. So, we do something very similar. We ask all the sibs, inlaws, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews to each send one (or more) birthday card directly to the birthday person through the regular mail service. With the age of email, it seems the only mail one receives are bills and junk advertising. Receiving "snail" mail like we did as children is like experiencing Christmas twice in one year! Oh, and the thought that people took time to stop, think, and write about the birthday person is probably one of the greatest gifts one can receive!

Nov 26, 2011

What a great Idea! I am tweaking it for my parent's 50th anniversary in 2013. Thanks!!

Sara H
Nov 26, 2011

This is great! I wish that we would have done this for my dad before he died. He would have loved it!!

Nov 27, 2011

I love this idea so much that we have decided to do it for my dad's 60 birthday in March. I recruited the help of my mom and my dads sisters to help reach more people that I don't have contact with. We are all so excited to do this. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Nov 27, 2011

Thank you so much for this idea! I read it a couple of months ago and saved it on Pinterest. My dad was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer 2 weeks ago, and after flying home to be there during his surgery, I was just astounded at the people who wanted to help or just talk to him. People have been touched by him from all corners of the earth. I know he's a great guy but I am going to do this for him for Christmas this year. Just want him to know how much of an impact he has made on people around the world in his 62 years of life. Thank you again for this idea. Your dad's faces are just so genuinely heartfelt. What an amazing gift for you to give him :)

Nov 28, 2011

wow.. this is so lovely, your dad can be proud to have such great friends&familie and kids like you!

thanks for sharing this :)

Nov 28, 2011

Love it!!! Doing this for my Papa's 80th in January!!!
(but going to put it in scrapbook form)

Nov 28, 2011

My mom is turning 70 next year and I love love love this idea. I hope you don't mind that I am going to use it. Thanks for sharing..


Nov 28, 2011

What an awesome idea!! Thanks so much for sharing! It's one of those priceless gifts (or 60 priceless gifts to be precise!)

Nov 29, 2011

This is such a beautiful idea. Thank you for doing this, and for sharing this with the world.

Alicia~ Susiehomaker
Nov 29, 2011

I LOVE this idea, wish my parents were still alive for me to do this for them, priceless gift. I DO think I will do it anyway and place the memories of them in a book for my kids.

Sara Ellis
Nov 29, 2011

I found this thanks to StumbleUpon... and LOVE this...
thanks for the inspiration.

I just emailed and Facebooked many friends and relatives from my ex-husband's life so I can make a scrapbook for our son. My ex passed away Feb 11, 2008 at 41 years because of heart failure. Our son is 21 and this would make a fabulous surprise for him.

Thank you.

Nov 29, 2011

Wow what a great idea my dad will be 60 in a few years so I am going to start collecting now! Thanks so much, what an inspiration!


This makes me SOOOO excited. When Declan was turning 1, I had everyone in the family write a letter to him, for him to open when he was 18. In fact, my Aunt Kitty just passed away this year, so her letter will be so special.

You dad's expression is amazing.

Nov 29, 2011

So lovely you were able to give this gift in life, I am helping
A friend put a similar project together for her
Fathers memorial.

Amanda Pendley
Nov 30, 2011

"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."

I laughed out loud...a lot. Which is saying something. It's currently nap time at my house and I'm the nap time nazi! All jokes aside though, this is probably the best birthday gift I've ever heard of. What a thoughtful girl you are. Thanks for sharing!

Megan L
Nov 30, 2011

This has got to be one of the coolest, most thoughtful gifts I have ever seen. My dad turns 70 in just over six months... and I'm pretty sure that I'm stealing your idea. I shed a few tears reading this story. What a wonderful, wonderful idea.

Nov 30, 2011

Thanks to you, I did this for my grandfather's 80th!! He LOVED it! and it was incredible to read all the memories

Dec 01, 2011

I get teary-eyed just thinking about this. What a beautiful gift you gave your father!

Dec 01, 2011

Wow this was so amazing to read! Definitely brought a tear to my eye! I absolutely love this. Funnily enough, my dad is turning sixty in a few months and I hope you don't mind me borrowing this :)

Dec 01, 2011

I LOVE this idea! I am going to do this for my dad's Birthday, thank you for sharing!!
One question, did you put multiple letters in one? Or did you just use 60 letters? I'm sure you recieved more than 60?
Thanks! :)

Jennifer w.
Dec 01, 2011

Thank you for that incredible story. Your father must have been so excited.

Bethany Larrabee
Dec 02, 2011

What a fantastic idea!

Dec 02, 2011

I love this idea. What a great thing to do for someone while they are still alive to enjoy it! Most of the time these memories are brought up at funerals after the person has passed. :(

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