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.

 

541
Lisa
Mar 13, 2012

My mom was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and I think this would be an amazing gift to give to her. Just to show her how important life is and how important she is to everyone in her life now and through out it. I believe this would be a great pick me up when she is feeling tired from her fight! Thank you for sharing!

542
Teresa Lara
Mar 14, 2012

THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS LOVELY EXPERIENCE,OF COURSE I SHED SOME TEARS. MY PARENTS ARE NOT HERE ANYMORE BUT MY MOM USED TO GO BACK WITH PASSED MEMORIES AND THAT WAS LIKE LIVING TIME ALL OVER AGAIN AND HAD LOTS OF LAUGHTER AND SOMETIMES WARMED OUR HEARTS AND FELT A SENSE OF TOGETHERNESS.

543
Susie
Mar 14, 2012

Thank you so much for this post!!! I literally had tears in my eyes as I felt this emotion watching him read these letters. This is a perfect idea that I would like to do for my parents. Thanks so much. Have a great day!

544
Kelly
Mar 14, 2012

This made me cry! It's beautiful!

545
typicallysorwen
Mar 15, 2012

Brilliantly done! You dad must be a nice man to have such thoughtful child! God bless your family :)

546
michael haid
Mar 15, 2012

Aside from the fact that this idea is wonderful and lovely and sweet and considerate gesture, I can't help but be struck by how many people have commented and continue to comment on this project. From both sides, the potential givers and potential recipients -seems all are touched. As a daughter, I would love to be able to capture some of these memories for my mom, now 84 while she's still living. So many of her friends and family are now gone. And me who myself will turn 60 this year sit here wondering if I actually know enough people to generate 60 memories. Realistically I guess I probably do but you never know. And would feel like the luckiest mom in the world if my kids took the time and effort to do something like this. This is one of the most loving things a child could do it seems to me.

Your mom and dad did a fantastic job. Well done.

547
rose
Mar 15, 2012

What a wonderful thing to do. I wish I had sixty people to do it with. This was so heartwarming. Great story, I hope it was appreciated.

548
Kendra
Mar 16, 2012

Wow! Way to go! It's so hard to come up with something unique, memorable, and not another dust collector.
I did this for my parent's 50th anniversary. With each mailed request, I included a piece of cream vellum stationary for his/her memories of my parents. These all went into a beautiful blue wedding scrapbook (cream and blue were their colors.) I had the same overwhelming response from old friends, neighbors, church members, family, co-workers, etc. The emotions this brought to my parents was priceless.

549
kennia
Mar 18, 2012

Você foi fantástica. Idéia brilhante, Congratulations!!!!

550
Christina
Mar 18, 2012

Came across your page and project on pinterest! I have been planning on throwing my dad a surprise 50th birthday party and this will be his gift from me. I am thrilled! Your gift idea is so brilliant and special. Thank you for sharing! Cannot wait to begin this project!

551
Tracy Sagona
Mar 18, 2012

I am so doing this for my father this year. He will be 81. I have gotten very excited just thinking about it. I am pulling in people from different stages of his life to help me find people to contribute. This is a wonderful idea and I can't wait for responses to start coming in. 81 is ALOT. I hope people will participate. Thank you so much for sharing your project of love.

552
jill
Mar 19, 2012

hands down, the most perfect gift. ever! thank you so much for the inspiration! i'm doing this as we speak for my husband's 40th, tomorrow! :)

553
NoWickCandle
Mar 19, 2012

I should do that for my parents someday...I know I would love it as a gift!!

554
NoWickCandle
Mar 19, 2012

I should do that for my parents someday...I know I would love it as a gift!!

555
Kathryn
Mar 20, 2012

This is awesome! Can you please tell me where I can get some envelopes like this!!?!

556
Kathryn
Mar 20, 2012

This is awesome! Can you please tell me where I can get some envelopes like this!!?!

557
jamie
Mar 22, 2012

thank you so much for the wonderful idea!!! my sisters and I just finished doing the same thing for our dad's 60th birthday---we had a little more time and ended up collecting 75 letters and were shocked. The best part about this (other than the surprise for him, we mailed them in a box out to california today) was reading all these memories and getting to know our dad in a whole new way. We are so happy to have found your idea on pinterest and are so greatful for the wonderful idea!!! THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOURS!!!

558
Amanda
Mar 22, 2012

What a fabulous idea!! Have been looking EVERYWHERE, where did you find those gorgeous envelopes???

559
Amanda
Mar 22, 2012

What a fabulous idea!! Have been looking EVERYWHERE, where did you find those gorgeous envelopes???

560
Jessica
Mar 24, 2012

I just stumbled onto this, and I have to say this is an amazing idea. My Dad turned 50 last November, but we didn't get to throw him a big party (like we wanted) because my maternal grandmother was very ill. In fact, she died not long after his birthday. My family is planning on throwing him a big, belated birthday party this coming summer, and I hope you don't mind if I take your idea and use it. The last few years have been really hard on my family, my Dad included. He lost his father in 2010 to lung cancer, and I've noticed he hasn't really been the same since. I'd like to do this for him because I think he'd really enjoy it. Thank you for posting this!

561
Carrie
Mar 24, 2012

What a beautiful thing you did for your dad! My dad turns 60 this year and I HAVE to do this. He is from England so he will not be with his family for this milestone. This will be wonderful to get all the responses from his family and friends! Thank you for this idea!!

562
michael
Mar 24, 2012

That is so cool to think that you have that many years in letters. This is a great idea for anyone.

563
Victoria
Mar 24, 2012

My mom's 60th is coming up in May and I am already pulling together the addresses to get this going! Love it, thank you so much for sharing :)

564
Desley
Mar 25, 2012

Thank you so very much for sharing this story and the photos. I cried just reading about such a beautiful gesture and gift. I hope you dont mind but i have pinned you on my Pinterest Board, just so everyone can read this beautiful story.

565
Jelly Bean
Mar 25, 2012

That is the most amazing present :D I'm sure your dad really loved it! I might want to do that for one of my friends who's birthday is coming up. :D What a wonderful gift!

566
Shalmali
Mar 26, 2012

I have to tell you, my dad's turning 60 this september and i have been breaking my head over something special. My mom just turned 50 few days ago and my dad and i surprised her to the top. so now it is his turn...
i am absolutly going to do this however, i dont know how ti get in touch with sooo many people...
this is amazing and i cant wait till i put this together.
thanx a ton....

567
Lisa
Mar 26, 2012

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful idea. I have just done this for my Dad's 70th birthday....I knew he didn't really want anything or need anything that I could buy as a present...but this was so much more special.
Thank you again, my Dad loved it.

568
Kortni
Mar 27, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

Do you mind me asking where you got the vintage airmail envelopes for this project/your wedding?

Thank you,

569
Louise McGoldrick
Mar 29, 2012

Oh wow. I got a tear reading this one. What an absolutely priceless gift....and all it took was an email!

Wonderful!

Louise xo

570
Becca
Mar 29, 2012

we just did a similar thing for my Gram when she turned 80. She led church mission trips for 25 years & we had everyone send us pics, memories, cards...anything they wanted for her. Gram had a minor stroke that left her with a little speech loss, and she sometimes has trouble remembering certain words....and she was NOT at a loss on this day! We put everything in a snapfish.com online photo book - all the images we collected from the church (all the slides we had converted!) and it was no less than amazing! DO THIS - find someone special and DO THIS for them!

571
nancy
Mar 30, 2012

What a fabulous idea! I almost didn't put my name on this just in case my mom reads it! Maybe for her next birthday? She's in her 80s. I guess I'll have to touch base with her brother for the early years.

572
Steph Bond-Hutkin
Mar 30, 2012

Holly, this is the coolest thing ever. You have a beautiful Dad and you are a beautiful daughter. What a special gift. Thanks for the inspiration. Steph x

573
constanza
Mar 30, 2012

i am still teary-eyed. this is one of the most touching posts i have read lately. so loving, so clever, spo priceless! i thank whoever pinned the link on pinterest so we could all share in you father's birthday.

much love your way
constanza

574
Jackie m
Mar 31, 2012

This is such a great idea, I am doing this now for my father in laws 50th, where did you get the envelopes from?

575
Ruby
Apr 02, 2012

What an amazing idea! We just had my dad's 60th, darn!

576
Zuri
Apr 02, 2012

Thanks for the idea! Its awesome!
Where did you get the envelopes and the little tag?

577

Just seen this beautiful post and your website for the first time (through Stumble)... such a brilliant present idea, I will be 'borrowing' that one!

578
anne
Apr 03, 2012

I did this exact same thing for my parents a few years back. Instead of envelopes, we put them in a book, and we also asked for photos that we scanned and sent back to them. They still pull the book out every once and a while - good for a laugh and a tear (or two)!

New to your blog and I love it already!

@adjewelry

579
Tina
Apr 03, 2012

First time visiting your blog and it won't be my last! Ima gonna steal this idea! Not for a birthday, but for an anniversary present. What an excellent idea and probably more treasured than any gift you can buy! These are the types of things we need to do to keep our families together and let one another know just how much we love them!

580
Erica
Apr 03, 2012

What an absolutely wonderful idea! The look on your dads face as he read his letters is priceless. Ugh, happy tears, this brought happy tears!

581
brooke
Apr 06, 2012

I LOVE this idea. My "D" is turning 60 in July and I am absolutely stealing this idea. He is such an incredible man (just like your father) and I am so excited to see him read all the funny/crazy/wonderful memories people have of him and his life!

582
Alix
Apr 06, 2012

OH my gosh how perfectly AMAZING this story is!!!!

583
lily
Apr 08, 2012

This was such a good idea! My parents did something similar to this on my 15th birthday or quinceanera. They had everyone write down a thought for me, or memory on pieces of paper and collected it on an album. It's been eight years now and I still smile and laugh when I open the album and reminisce. I am also very nostalgic and enjoy remembering past events. In fact that's probably how my family and I have gotten through tough present times.
There is a quote that comes to mind from Ellen G. White when facing tough times: "We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history"
I am sure that your father will treasure these memories for a very long time.
Blessing to you and your family

584
dawn
Apr 10, 2012

i've always thought of doing something similiar for loved ones on birthdays + anniversaries, but had never heard/seen anyone up until now exectute it. what a precious gift for someone you love! your dad's expression are priceless!

585
Kathy
Apr 10, 2012

I've bookmarked this...mom is turning 75 next year. Can't wait! As I read through the first page of comments, I was realizing that folks are sharing lots of OTHER ideas, or VARIATIONS on this idea that they have done or have seen done...don't suppose anyone has compiled a list have they?

If not, I might just have to do that....unfortunately, not anytime real soon...so hoping someone else has!!

586
Theresa
Apr 10, 2012

I just 'stumbled upon' this post. It is a wonderful idea. Your Dad looks so happy. Thanks for sharing.

: 0 ) Theresa

587
David W. Allen
Apr 10, 2012

Wow. I come across your site using Stumbleupon and I didn't expect find such a quality and heart warming post. What a wonderful idea; a gift that money can not buy. Beautiful.

588
Ashley
Apr 11, 2012

WOW! I just found this via pinterest and cannot wait to do this! My grandmother will love this. I can see it now. She will be reading these letters for days, weeks even after her birthday. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful idea!

589
Jerry Mazzola
Apr 12, 2012

I am sixty years old. And I chose a path in life which does not usually bring one a child...but if things were different I would have loved to have had a daughter who was just like you. I cried reading about what you did for your Dad , what a beautiful thoughtful thing to do for someone you love.

590
Marilee Lemon
Apr 12, 2012

How absolutely wonderful!! I also cried when I read the story. I love the idea and plan to use it, if that is okay! My Mom will be 85 in about five months and I think this will blow her away!

I know she loves to read, but I think instead of putting them in envelopes, I will scrapbook each one, and include the senders address so she can contact them if she wants to! I think it will be easier for her to read them as well, in a book form!

Really enjoy your blog!

591
Marilee Lemon
Apr 12, 2012

How absolutely wonderful!! I also cried when I read the story. I love the idea and plan to use it, if that is okay! My Mom will be 85 in about five months and I think this will blow her away!

I know she loves to read, but I think instead of putting them in envelopes, I will scrapbook each one, and include the senders address so she can contact them if she wants to! I think it will be easier for her to read them as well, in a book form!

Really enjoy your blog!

592
gujarat samachar
Apr 13, 2012

It's such a great idea...Thanks for posting..

593
Audrey
Apr 13, 2012

My friend told me to check out this post. My dad turned 60 this year and I was having a difficult time figuring out what to do for him. I saw this and knew I had to try and pull it off for him. I only had a few weeks, but managed to get over 30 letters from people from all aspects of his life. The reaction from him was overwhelming and now, almost two months later, he still has a hard time mentioning it without crying. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful gift idea.

594
Kelly Stilwell
Apr 13, 2012

Just beautiful. And you love champagne, the library and Trader Joe's? Could we be sisters?

595
Bunzy
Apr 13, 2012

wow

596
Bunzy
Apr 13, 2012

wow

597
EmpomivoF
Apr 14, 2012

Hej Hej. A jak share a story Eddie Oddalajac sie, rzucil przez. Daj im znac, ze wciaz. PORoWNANIE AKCENTOWANIA SAMOGlOSEK I SPolGlOSEK amerykanskie miasto, z ktorego pochodzisz, ze ta woda wygladala tak.
hostel cracow
apartamenty Krynica Zdrój
spa morze

598
Jann
Apr 15, 2012

Thank you for the wonderful idea! Currently creating '80 Years of Memories' for my Mom's birthday in May, based on your idea. I found airmail envelopes on envelopes.com and cool vintage stamps that are stickers on overstock.com. Number stickers came from hobbylobby.com.

I've added to my task, by scanning all of the letters, notes, photos and I'm going to turn them into a book using blurb.com for the family to have - so we can share these memories long into the future!

Thanks again for sharing your creativity and joyful ideas!

599
Carly
Apr 16, 2012

I just copied you for my parents 30th wedding anniversary! thank you for sharing!

600
Jill Grassnick
Apr 16, 2012

I don't even know you all and this made me a bit teary. Thank you for a great idea.

601
Staci
Apr 20, 2012

Thank you so much for posting!!! I lost both of my parents as a teenager, just a year apart from each other. I am now planning a slight modification to your idea to commemorate 20 years of their passing, in hopes that my siblings can share and celebrate others memories of them together!!! I only wish that I had more precious memories of my own!!!

602
Vee
Apr 21, 2012

I love this! It's my dad's 65th this year and I was actually thinking of making a book called 65 Reasons Why I Love You filled with memories, much like your idea... But now I'm reconsidering! Great idea :-)

603
Naomi
Apr 21, 2012

What a beautiful thing to do. Thank you for sharing this, I was so touched, by the end of this post I was choked up with tears in my eyes!

604
Cindy
Apr 22, 2012

What an amazing and thoughtful idea.Thank you so much for sharing.

605
Jenny
Apr 22, 2012

This was so sweet! I will be 60 this year, what a great gift that would be...you're a sweet daughter!

606
Meghan @JaMonkey
Apr 22, 2012

This is beautiful. I think I might do this for my daughter each year put a memory in an envelope and then give them to her when she turns 18.

607
Michelle
Apr 23, 2012

Hi!

I came across your post whilst travelling through Blogland, and I'm so glad I did! I used your idea to make a '60 Years of Memories' for my dad's birthday. He LOVED it - said it was the best day of his life - bless his heart!

I've written a post about it on my blog here: http://www.thepurplepumpkinblog.co.uk/2012/04/60-years-of-memories-make-... if you'd like to take a look - I've linked to this inspirational post too!

Thanks for the idea!

608
missyme
Apr 23, 2012

Couldn't be a better gift then this! It brought tears to my eyes!

609
casey
Apr 23, 2012

I adore you for sharing this idea. It is so hard to find something that will surprise my mom and I have been holding onto this idea for a while now just waiting for her birthday to get close enough to start planning this. Thank You!!!

610
Jessica
Apr 23, 2012

I love this! I did something similar for my mom's 50th. I created a blog just for memories from family and friends. I put each memory in it's own post and sent the link to my mom on her birthday. I wish I had gotten pictures to add to each post of the two of them together, that would have been fun. I really like your vintage envelopes, and it must have been so neat to be there while your dad read those precious memories!

611
Summer
Apr 24, 2012

Such a great idea! I just love this and will have to do this for my mom. Thanks so much for sharing it!! It did make me tear up.

612
Kristy
Apr 24, 2012

I teared-up just reading your post! This is such a sweet idea and a really great way to keep so many memories alive. My dad turns 60 this summer and I'm searching for ideas to celebrate his life.... I will definitively be copying the idea you've shared.... thanks so, so much for passing this along!

613
Lymarie Alejandro
Apr 25, 2012

Where did find the vintage envelopes?

614
salma
Apr 26, 2012

i wish, i wish i had done with my father when he was alive. he would have loved it so. thanks for the blog

615
Pamela Gold
Apr 26, 2012

This is something quite special!

616
Suzanne
Apr 26, 2012

What a lovely idea!! My dad turns 75 this June. He's been in a nursing home for the past few months and I can't imagine that he wouldn't love to be entertained with 75 pieces of written memories (I may ask for people to send pics or drawings, too, if they are so inclined). Finding your post was perfect timing. Thanks so much for the idea!!

617
Dyll
Apr 27, 2012

Amazing priceless gift! Thanks for sharing, will try it out during mom's next birthday...

618
KR
Apr 27, 2012

I just wanted to express my gratitude for sharing this idea with me. This october will actually be my father's 60th birthday. I think that this would mean this world to him for many reasons. The two biggest are that he recently, in the last year, has lost his best friend, and his mother. I think that this gift idea will bring alot of great memories back to him. And the other is that he has worked for the United States Postal Service for nearly 40 years. This is such a great idea to reflect that part of his life. I am definitely going to do this for him, thanks again for sharing this!!

619
Karin
Apr 27, 2012

It's an amazing idea you did for your dad, I love it since I also love my father, I always make sure to make him happy. There's nothing more I can say.

620
Shirley Jones
Apr 27, 2012

Awesome idea! My husband suffered a stroke a few years ago. Since then, memories from many years ago seem to mean more to him than the present time. He won't be sixty for several more years, but I think I might do this anyway! What a gift for generations to come too. By reading those memories, they will get to know an ancestor they never got to meet!

621
Decorah
Apr 27, 2012

I am "borrowing" this idea for my daughter's first grade teacher gift. All the students are writing a letter to the teacher about why they loved being in her class this year. I thought it was perfect because this is the year many of these kids learned to read and write and would just be so touching. Thank you for such a special idea!

622
Orman
Apr 27, 2012

I realy love that history, I am very glad that I find this website. And you have a great dad, and your dad have a great som. Congratulations!

623
Kelley
Apr 28, 2012

That is the sweetest thing!!!! I'm tearing up over here!

624
Kelley
Apr 28, 2012

That is the sweetest thing!!!! I'm tearing up over here!

625
Aoife
Apr 29, 2012

In February I did a '60 years of Memories' for my dad, and I wanted to thank you for this inspired idea. It was a fantastic experience for the whole family and the memories that we collected will be cherished. My mom posted about it on her blog, http://lifestor.ie/?p=88 . Her website is about her start-up business called LifeStor - an Online Memory Archive, it might be of interest! It is funny to compare the facial expressions in the photos of your dad to my dad, they are quite alike!

626
Nicole
Apr 29, 2012

Words can't begin to express my gratitude for you lending your idea to so many of us! This is such an incredible gift idea and I cannot wait to do this for my parents & in-laws!
Kudos to you!!

627
LisaK
Apr 29, 2012

I did this for my dad's 80th birthday. He insisted he didn't want "anything big." I asked each person to mail them to his address during the week of his birthday. My mom said that the first day he was pleasantly surprised and by the second day he was waiting at the door for the mailman. He ended up with more than 80 memories thanks to his friends sharing the info with other friends. Absolutely priceless!

628
Beth
Apr 30, 2012

This is amazing! So heartfelt <3

629
susan
May 01, 2012

I'm totally stealing this for my mom's 70th - hope you don't mind. What a beautiful idea, and beautifully retold. Love it :)

630
susan
May 01, 2012

I'm totally stealing this for my mom's 70th - hope you don't mind. What a beautiful idea, and beautifully retold. Love it :)

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