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.


May 01, 2012

Can I steal this for my mom and dads 25th aniversario de bodas?

May 01, 2012

Can I steal this for my mom and dads 25th aniversario de bodas?

May 03, 2012

Brilliant! Such a great idea and his reaction pictures speak volumes! Love it!

May 03, 2012

Brilliant! Such a great idea and his reaction pictures speak volumes! Love it!

May 03, 2012

This is sweet and fantastic and genius!

May 04, 2012

This was so beautiful to read and I loved seeing the photos of your dear old dad having a read of them at the end. What a great idea!!

May 05, 2012

I did this today for my dad :-). Well, something similar. Anyway, as he read each note, he couldn't believe it and he said that this gift he'll cherish forever! And that it meant more than he find words for. THANK YOU for sharing this kind and inspiring idea!

anne martin
May 06, 2012

This is a great idea something money cannot buy treasured memories thank you for sharing it with us.

Fannie Hilgers
May 06, 2012

Wow its really a amazing special present! brought tears to my eyes!!

Love it!!

greets from the netherlands!!

May 06, 2012

Thank you for your beautiful idea. I converted it for my very young friend who is 30 years old and fighting breast cancer. I asked her family and friends to send letters full of love and prepared 30 enveloppes (number of radiotherapy treatments that she will have). Each morning she opens a letter before leaving for hospital. She feels supported in her battle. Thank you again.

May 07, 2012

Thank u so much for this amazing idea! My dad will b celebrating 75 in a couple...Definitly gonna b used for that!!!!

May 07, 2012

Letters save our memories. I like to read letters. Very interesting post

May 09, 2012

hi there, i am sorry to say i have never read your blog before (i will from now on!), i came across this on my 'stumble upon' app this morning whilst playing with my iphone and i think it is wonderful. my dad turns sixty in 2 months and has insisted no party/presents as he does not want a fuss. we have been racking our brains to think of something special to do for him and this is a perfect way to let him know he is thought of and loved without the pressure of a party. thank you so much for a fabulous idea. i bet your dad loved it! also, how great to think you have inspired all of these people (see above!) to go out and do something as wonderful for someone they love. i think they call it 'paying it forward' :)

May 10, 2012

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

May 10, 2012

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

May 11, 2012

I am a "second-timer". I had a wonderful first husband that I did divorce. We just grew apart, be would love to encourage our daughters to do this for their dad. I would also like to be one of the contributors.

I was also, after a long time, lucky enough to meet, for me, the perfect man. He has shared so much of himself with me. He is the kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful, generous soul. I would love to hear about his past, since I missed most of it! I just know I hope to share the rest of his future!

I am weepy reading about the generosity of your spirit for your dad! He is one lucky guy!

Thanks for your thoughtful, generous, wonderful idea!

Have a lovely summer!

May 12, 2012

Wow...what a precious gift...absolutely beautiful! Brougt tears to my eyes just reading your post Thank you for sharing!!

May 12, 2012

Wow...what a precious gift...absolutely beautiful! Brougt tears to my eyes just reading your post Thank you for sharing!!

May 12, 2012

wow!!!its very emotional n nice way to show him how much u luv!!!

Polly May Walters
May 16, 2012

Hello! What a lovely idea!
I was wondering if it was okay to do a feature of you on my blog?
I think my readers for benefit from this so much! It's absolutely inspirational. You have a lovely, kind heart

May 16, 2012

this is just so incredible. I just love seeing such a kind act towards another human being!!! your dad is lucky to have you! very inspiring and you make me want to inspire others!

Linda Ann
May 18, 2012

What a wonderful idea!

May 18, 2012

Awesome idea! When my dad turned eighty, we decided to make a power point presentation with photos of his childhood. We also asked uncles,aunts, granchildren and his closest friends to share with us "what they like or admire" about him. We wrote this using Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as backround music.
The night of his birthday, we showed him what we had prepared. His was so happy! I think it was the first time a saw some tears running down his cheeks...
Now I will use your idea for his 85th bday!
Tks for sharing!

May 18, 2012

WOW-What a beautiful gift! I cried too. Why wait until 60. This type of gift is always special.

May 18, 2012

WOW-What a beautiful gift! I cried too. Why wait until 60. This type of gift is always special.

May 20, 2012

I just have a few questions because I'm obviously going to do this next year for my dad's 60th!
How long before his birthday did you send out the letter to everyone?
If you got more than 60, what did you do with the extras?
Did you put them in any kind of order?
How long did the assembling process take?

Thanks so much!

May 21, 2012

Wowww, I loved it. Excellent idea.


Oh, what an amazing gift idea... I think I will do something like this one day for my sister, she would love that! :)


What an amazing idea, absolutely love it and will probably make something similar for my sister, once we get older :)
Thanx for sharing this!

May 21, 2012

Such a beautiful gesture :'). I'm going to incorporate this idea into celebrating my mom's 40th birthday! Thank you so much! She's gonna love it :)

May 22, 2012

My daughter did something similar last year for Christmas from me. She collected notes and letters from friends, family, co-workers, past co-workers, etc. and put them all in a beautiful scrap book. She included pictures of that person when possible. Many pictures from the past with that person and myself in them. The best gift I have ever received!

May 23, 2012

Wow!!! This really moved me. You are so awesome! I love this idea. Thanks so much for sharing!

May 25, 2012

And I suspect your Dad will think this is one of the best, if not THE best, gifts he's ever received. He's a lucky guy to have you as his daughter!

May 27, 2012

I have to copy these words: "I'm not crying...I've just got something in my eye. What a terrific idea; thanks for sharing."

Just saw this on Pinterest and love it. We did something similar for my father at his 80th birthday. His Alzheimer's was progressing, but the past was still accessible to him, and the project meant the world to him. My mother self-published all the letters as a book, and now he can enjoy reading them over and over.

May 28, 2012

Thank you for posting this idea. My daughters surprised me this past weekend for my 50th birthday with a packet of memories. The notes, letters, one liners, pictures brought back so many memories - some I had forgotten but many I remember like they were yesterday. I also laughed, cried (happy tears and some sad) when I looked through the pictures. Many of them were of very special people in my life who are no longer here. I plan on making a book to capture everything including the party so I never lose a single message.

May 29, 2012

This is such a great idea!!
This is touching and delicate and sweet!!
Thank you for sharing this :-)

May 29, 2012

This is such a great idea!!
This is touching and delicate and sweet!!
Thank you for sharing this :-)

May 30, 2012

I'm going to do this for my husband when he turns 50 next year. I think it will be a great hit!

May 31, 2012

This was absolutely inspiring to say the least. I would have loved to see his reaction for each one. You did such an amazing job at bringing out every emotion possible in this blog. Simply amazing!

Jun 01, 2012

What a wonderful idea! I am going to try this for my mom's upcoming birthday. love it!

Anne @ Unique Gifter
Jun 01, 2012

Super amazing idea, well done!

Jun 01, 2012

What a fabulous idea! This truly makes my heart smile and I am so glad your dad has a blessing in his life like you. :)

Rin Dawson
Jun 02, 2012

you my dear are absolutely lovely - I adore your blog but this made me squeeeee with delight :) I adore mail & airmail especially - this was so beautiful - clever girl! x Rin

Jun 03, 2012

Just came across this post via Pinterest. What a lovely gift! Tell you dad I said happy 61st birthday next week!

Sara Renae
Jun 04, 2012

Hi Holly,

Such a moving tribute to a loved one! Inspirational, to say the least! I shall have to "borrow" your idea for my parents upcoming anniversary! Thanks for sharing such a tender moment.


Jun 05, 2012

This is such an AWESOME idea I wish my family would have done this for me I just had my 40th. I am always looking for special gifts like this to give people. What a great kid you are to think of your dad. I was teary eyed reading this and. Just such a beautiful personal gift!!!!

Jun 06, 2012

Thank you so much for this brilliant idea!

My mom is turning 60 later this year and does not suspect anything from my sister or myself because we are fairly young and therefore she doesn't expect anything big for her big day!

This is the perfect present and I am so grateful to have stumbled upon it!

Jun 06, 2012

Wow! My father passed away eight years ago and this is something he would have loved. My father in laws 90th birthday is coming up and I would love to do this for him. Thank you for the wonderful idea.

Jun 06, 2012

This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

Jun 06, 2012

My dad is turning 60 this year and I am trying to decide if we want to throw him a big party or not (we did one for his 50th). But this is a cool idea that I will probably incorporate somehow with the other birthday plans. Thanks for the great idea!

Jun 07, 2012

This is the best gift any dad could ever have.

Jun 07, 2012

I "pinned" this idea awhile ago. I just came back to revisit my page & read this again. Such an amazing gift to your Dad.

Candlelight Obsession
Jun 07, 2012

You are an Amazing person and truly and very special daughter. What a beautiful and meaningful gift!

Ada N Janowicz
Jun 09, 2012

I don't know you but I can only wish for my kids to grow up in to wonderful sons like you are, that was an awesome gift and it shows how much you care for your dad, love it!!

Jun 10, 2012

We did something similar for my Mom's 80th. I created little forms that I sent out to family and friends. At the top it said "I Remember..." and then I left a space for them to write their memory. We mailed them out with a return SASE. I'm not sure how many people we sent them to, but we received exactly 80 responses! It was so fun reading them as they came back in the mail everyday. I rolled each one up and tied it with a ribbon, then put them in a "memory jar". The thought was that she would open one or two each week so the memories would last her whole 80th year. Fortunately, she couldn't stand to wait, and she and my Dad read them all in 2 weeks. I say fortunately because my Dad passed away 16 days after her birthday. Seven years later, she still reads them from time to time. We also gave her custom made Thank You notes that said "Thanks for the Memories". I know, 100%, that she never received a gift she appreciated more.


What a great idea and very, very loving gift. Wow. It made m3 cry. I might do a copy & paste one day. Thanks a lot for sharing :_)

Jun 11, 2012

good great post signed up to your rss feed.

Jun 11, 2012

I think it's great to read a letter sixty years before. It's exciting.

Jun 13, 2012

What a precious gift. Wow. Makes me teary. What a fantastic idea. :D

Jun 13, 2012

This is SUCH a wonderful idea!!! My dad turns 60 in December and I have sent messages to his friends to begin the project. I have been looking for envelopes and I have none that are as cute as the ones you have on the blog. Could you tell me where you got the envelopes. Did you adhere the numbers to them?

Jun 14, 2012

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Jun 14, 2012

So this definitely struck a cord with me, got testy just reading it. In 4 short months my dad will be 70 and I think it would be a blast to hear some memories of my pops!!! Definitely starting this ASAP :) thanks for sharing!!!!!

Jun 19, 2012

A lump in my throat...wonderful!

Jun 19, 2012

I started crying when I read this! I'm going to do this for my parents 50th wedding anniversary! It's coming up soon and my sisters and I have been trying to figure out a unique idea for the big day!

Thank you

Jun 20, 2012

Wow...what a fantastic idea!

I am definitely stealing this for my mom's 60th, since she doesn't want a big deal made of the event, but we do.

Thank you for sharing this !

Lauren Kim Photo
Jun 21, 2012

What a beautifully special idea. I love it

Jun 21, 2012

This present brought tears to my eyes, such a wonderful, beautiful and touching idea!!!!

Jun 21, 2012

I swear, I am a total boob! This made me tear up! This was a wonderfull gift, and I will keep this in mind for my parents approaching 60th birthday! Thanks for sharing!

Lindsey Aylward
Jun 24, 2012

This is such an amazing idea! I was teary-eyed by the end reading about it. Thank you so much for sharing! Your dad is adorable.

Jun 24, 2012

I just found this on AMAZING! This brought tears to my eyes!

Dona Baker
Jun 24, 2012

Great story. I'm crying now. I did this for a memory book after my mother passed away. It would have been so much better to have these stories for the person to enjoy. Thank you (and your dad) for sharing this.

Jun 25, 2012

This is simply awesome!

Jun 25, 2012

This is simply awesome!

Jun 25, 2012

That's beautiful, Congrats to your pop on 60 years of life! :)

Jun 26, 2012

Brilliant ! Really well done to you for a lovely gift for your Dad. x

Jun 27, 2012

Thank you for sharing all the details of an absolutely fabulous idea! I've been searching for ideas for my hubby's 40th in August. Thanks to facebook I can message his friends (a lot of peeps from years ago that I don't know) and get this rolling.

Shannon Marical
Jun 27, 2012

I LOVE this idea! We are going to do it for my parents' 50th anniversary coming up. I've already got the envelopes too! Thanks for the idea!

Shannon Marical
Jun 27, 2012

I LOVE this idea! We are going to do it for my parents' 50th anniversary coming up. I've already got the envelopes too! Thanks for the idea!

Jun 27, 2012

This is such a totally awesome gift idea! How and where did you start trying to get a hold of everyone? And how did it stay a secret? I'd like to try this so whatever information you can share with me would be lovely!

Thank you :)

Jun 27, 2012

Thank you for sharing this amazing idea, I had tears in my eyes as I read this!! Wish I had seen it sooner, my dad's birthday is next week!!

Jun 29, 2012

Thank you for the idea and the post. It was truly wonderful to see.

Jun 29, 2012

This is an amazing gift that you've given your father. Thank you so much for sharing with us! It had me in tears.

Jun 29, 2012

Wow!! Brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful gift you gave him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jun 29, 2012

Wow!! Brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful gift you gave him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jul 05, 2012

This is beautiful. I did something similar to this about my mother not too long ago. Mine was a little bittersweet. My mother died when I was 18 and I have 3 younger siblings, so I asked family and friends to write memories of her and I had them bound in a book form, gave it to my brothers and sister, so that they might have a piece of her even after their own memories faded. It was a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, accomplishment.

Jul 05, 2012

This is a wonderful idea. I am sure your father is so proud to call you his daughter! I will be doing this soon.

Jul 05, 2012

Great idea! My two sisters and I did something similiar for our dad on Father's Day several years ago. We all had our families type out sentence strip memories. Some were funny, some were sad (like when we found out he had cancer). We cut these apart and placed the sentence strips in a plastic jar. Daddy was told to take out a memory a day. He really LOVED the gift and still talks about it today!

Jul 06, 2012

I love your wonderful gift to your father. I had a wonderful experience doing a 40th anniversary party for my parents. My mother had cancer and I knew she wouldn't live to their 50th, their anniversary was coming up soon so I called all 75 people on the list (I had to get my parent's help because I didn't know all their friends) It was so wonderful to talk to everyone, they would just say yes without even checking the date or checking with a spouse, wonderful comments from everyone and I could never have talked to everyone individually the night of the party. 73 people came. Thanks for sharing and reminding me of my parents!


Wow, I am still wiping the happy tears! Lovely story....Saw you on Pinterest and had to comment about what a phenominal idea that is.

The Missing Piece Puzzle Company

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