This year, for my dad’s 65th birthday, I wanted to do something special. His birthday was in late October, but I wanted to give him a handmade gift from everyone on Thanksgiving since I knew our whole family would be together. In mid-October, shortly after seeing this post on Pinterest, I was inspired to reach out to friends and family from his past and present. My mom helped me gather email and mailing addresses (for those without computers) of people who might be interested in participating. I sent out a massive email, as well as a handful of snail mail letters, and waited. I had only received one or two responses within the first week, but I crossed my fingers for the best. Within the next few weeks, our mailman had his hands full.
Piles of emails, handwritten letters, and nostalgic photos came streaming in. I found myself laughing out loud while reading stories about my father’s antics, whether he was dressing up as Santa to entertain decades of little kids, or helping his work buddies learn the in’s and out’s of deer hunting. I found out a lot of things I didn’t know about my dad, like how my mom and grandma won’t let him live down the fact that he totally denied them when they first asked him to go out for pizza (my mom’s parents and my dad’s parents were friends growing up, so that’s how my parents met).
After dinner on Thanksgiving, my dad did something very “dad”-like and handed out some early Christmas gifts he had wrapped with chocolate foil coins taped to the outside (and real money tucked behind them). This is typical dad behavior, he is always anxious to share gifts with loved ones on holidays, whether he’s giving us reindeer Pez dispensers or decorations for our mantle. Once everyone had unwrapped their presents, I told him we had a gift for him to open as well. He looked both confused and surprised by the pile of 65 envelopes, each one filled with a different memory from his past.
He started opening the hand-stamped envelopes one-by-one (thanks to Pete for tackling a majority of the stamping duties) and revealed memories from life-long friends, co-workers from his federal marshall days, old neighbors, new neighbors, some of my childhood pals, and last but not least, our family.
I listened as my dad, brother, and mom took turns reading the longer letters.
I laughed at the story about how my dad accidentally swallowed a giant-sized moth that flew in the car window when he was out driving with my mom and friends. It came as no surprise to me since I’m well aware that his mouth is open 99% of the time (he’s a rambler, in case you couldn’t tell).
I learned that he was a Coca Cola aficionado, which surprised me–I don’t recall much soda being in the house when I was growing up. He was also well remembered for his Halloween decorations and how he would swap out a life-size Jason dummy that had been on display and stand quietly in his Jason costume on trick or treat night to then terrify the neighborhood teens (and adults) by slowly chasing them. It’s no why I’m such a horror movie fanatic. As a side note, I love how bored my parents’ dog Whiskey looks in this photo.
My dad didn’t quite understand the concept until after opening the first dozen or so envelopes…he kept asking, “Wait, I have to open all of these!?” My grandma even made a funny comment about how she was in her late 80s and she understood the concept (it was funny because it involved much more expletives, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination). Once we took a break for pie, my dad was finally in the mood to start making headway.
He breezed through almost all of the letters without shedding a tear, but once he got to the end with memories from my brother, sister-in-law, mom, grandma, Pete and I, he had to take frequent breaks to go blow his nose in the bathroom. It was pretty darn precious.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed memories to help make this happen. My hopes are that if my dad is ever having a downer of a day, he can open up some of the envelopes again and remember that he is loved by many. Thankfully I still have a few more years until my mom turns
65 45 (see what I did there, mom?), so I can take a bit of a breather until then.
Happy belated 65th birthday, dad. I look forward to many more memories with our fabulous (albeit slightly dysfunctional) family.