The first message I saw today was from my ex-wife with the sad news that her grandmother passed away at age 104. To call “Grandma Pat” feisty was an understatement; I would not have been surprised if she lived to 204.

It got me thinking and looking through my old web sites, because I remembered in 2002 working with her to make a tribute on her 90th birthday, done up as a hand coded web site


The name came from the motto of her 1931 Atkin Minnesota high school class: “Sunrise, not Sunset.” The web site was some of my early PHP work, I used the same template I built the year before for my Dad’s tribute site. I am fairly sure she wrote all the content for me and had all the photos organized, it has a lot of detail about her life, family, growing up.

As a child I remember there was always a lot of work to be done. Toys were different then. Our family shared 1 bike, 1 set of skies, and size adjustable ice skates. In the winter we sled down nearby hills, skated on the river, and rode up and down in horse drawn sleighs. In the summer, we played hopscotch and make believe house outside.

We lived on the edge of town in a house with a large garden and cherry trees. We grew strawberries and raspberries. The garden was our supply of food; we canned everything. We had cows, pigs, and chickens. Besides sewing, my mother made cottage cheese and sold it. We kids could deliver it.

Our home did not have running water, central heat or a bathroom. When we washed clothes the water was hauled up from Mud River, in Aitkin. There was a pump outdoors for drinking water. The pot belly stove provided heat and the outhouse was out back.

When I was 14, my mom and I had typhoid fever. Unfortunately, she died of a heart attack. I remember the last conversation with my mom. I had just gone back to school the day before and I’d asked her what a “quorum” was. She explained it to me. And then in the middle of the night we were all rubbing her feet, and then she died.

There are some interesting parallels with Pat and my own grandmother- they both lost a parent early (Pat lost both of hers by the time she was a teen) and were somewhat raised by siblings. They both grew up in poverty conditions but called their childhood happy, and saw a life transition to middle class.

And both women outlived their siblings, their spouses, and their own children. I find that idea mind boggling, to live longer than your own children.

Pat has a connection to where I am living now. In 1963 (the year I was born) she and her husband Eddie bought a small cabin in Pine, Arizona along with my ex’s parents. They worked to expand it to a full sized house, still looking good when I go past it.


I remember stories of having to drive a road not even paved then which is now the 4 lane Beeline highway. They salvaged building materials from an abandoned hospital in Phoenix, and then “liberated” sandstone from the highway that now heads north of town (you can see it in the chimney). In 1967 they were here and survived the biggest snowstorm in Arizona that dumped 6 feet of snow.

It was those memories that led us to look for a vacation home here in Strawberry, now where I live full time.

There is a spot up the road, with a view of Strawberry where Pat had showed us where she tossed the ashes from her husband. And soon she will join him.

I knew Grandma Pat for a relatively small slice of her life, and feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to organize her life story (well up to 90, I missed all the stuff that happened since).

And now she can have a glorious sunset.

Top / Featured Photo: Screen shot of a web site tribute for Pat’s 90th birthday; those were her photos I scanned (it’s possible I took the right side photo of her, that was way back in 2002!)

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I know my mom’s (age 90) greatest fear is outliving her kids. When you think about the amount of heartbreak carried by a 104 year old person who has outlived so many, you wonder if it is even remotely worth it.
    I also think it is heartbreaking the way divorced families sometimes lose track of each other, as you lost track of Pat. I know, sometimes those relationships just aren’t meant to continue all the way through time.
    But you’ve honored her here and blown a breath of her long life out across the Great Plains of the Internet.

  2. I felt a real sense of loss when my ex-partner’s parents each died, well into their nineties. He and I are still close friends, so I found out quickly, and I thought about how kind they had each been to me in the ten years I was living with their son. It was the strangest loss — family, not family.

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