Dear Gramma Great

2020 Smith, Lynn Rilean

Life started somewhere. We all have different takes on where. Different experiences. Different outlooks. Hence, individuality.

None of what I thought was important even matters anymore.

It’s more about the bones and what kept them glued together. How we managed not to completely crumble or when we did crumble that we got put back together.

The bones that built me. The bones that built us.

The bones that will forever be a part of holding me up.

The bones that carried the weight of the world on them and walked around without breaking on a daily basis. The bones that started out fragile, and grew to be strong. The bones that kept you safe when the other’s broke. The bones that made sure you had food to eat. The bones that worried themselves sick at night fretting. The bones that made homemade bread and jelly. The bones that demanded that you mind. The bones that sewed clothes for your dolls and built furniture for them also. The bones that matter most.

The bones matter.

The bones matter.

The bones matter.

My elders can go back further than me and describe a past none of us would likely survive in today. We are so spoiled.

I hated history as a young child and young adult.

Where that changed in me I’m not certain.

I think losing loved ones has a way of making little things mean more.

I do know that today history is like an art form to me. It is beautiful and eclectic. I could write about my history all day long.

I only wish I would have paid better attention to the words spoken to me through the years.

Not only am I gathering the pieces now, I am fascinated by the hunt for it all.

I feel the puzzle is coming together minus a couple corner pieces. Unfortunately those pieces may never be found. Quite possible those pieces that are missing are the actual missing pieces. That sounds complicated but as they say, silence sometimes is the answer.

One of those pieces begins with her. She is a big section of building my puzzle.

Great Grandmother Rilean Garner Johnson.

Aka to us kids, Gramma Great.

As I read through my Great Grandmother’s journal pages from 1932, I can’t help but feel very spoiled.

Journal entry of Rilean Garner Johnson in August of 1932

I also feel her presence in the room often.

I most definitely believe in Angels.

She was very special to me.

It was brought to my attention recently that we were probably very bored at the house that built the foundation of our childhood and that we had to have developed quite the imagination.

We spent a lot of time with our Great Grandparents.

We all loved them very much.

Without them to care for us, I simply don’t know how the end of this story would turn out, or if I would even be here to still tell it.

Growing up with the Greats.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her as a teenager when her health was deteriorating.

Lynn Rilean and Great Grandmother Rilean Johnson December 1989

That changed my entire perspective on the meaning of life and death and aging. Yes, my dad died unexpectedly, and way to early but, watching a loved one slip away slowly is heartbreaking. I was only there for part of it. I did not know how much she touched my life and my heart until later as an adult when I found myself in a caregiver role.

A role that ultimately turned my life around and has allowed me to be here writing today.

An entire chapter in my book is written of that experience and the house that built us.

When I, my siblings, and cousins were young she would make us a pallet on her bedroom floor to sleep. Old wood floor. She wood cushion the best she could. Nothing like Grampa Greats old white t-shirts to make you feel like a princess at bedtime.

D.j. Nill (Dwayne Jr.), C.C. (Lynn Rilean) Jennie D’Lee Dwayne Nill’s oldest son and Doug Nill’s daughters.

Can’t forget the pink rollers or strip rags used in my sister and I’s hair so we could wake up with curls.

Lynn Rilean and Jennie D’Lee Nill 1976
910 S. Altamont Blvd. Spokane, Washington

Sure maybe some stuff sucked, but it didn’t ever seem bad there. Having our Grandparents and our cousins were the best part. We were loved, we were provided for, and we were safe. ( minus the back bedroom monster. ) read below.

In her room was a door to what everyone called the back room. Mainly a storage room, and basically nothing us kids needed to be in.

They kept a deep freezer in her room. It made a horrible noise scary in itself.

What evil monster are they hiding in that back bedroom?

Is it going to liquify and come through the cracks to kill us?

Too many episodes of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe maybe, still scary nonetheless.

Truthfully it was a small house, hence the freezer covered a door. I’m guessing because there was no where else for it? Maybe?

It was the best sleepovers though. She would read her romance books which meant her light stayed on. I remember the covers of her books had women in beautiful dresses. On occasion a book cover with a cowboy.

Having the light on was a treasure.

Absolutely fantastic for kids afraid of the dark.

Us kids all remember a portrait on the wall.

It was of our Great Grandfather Herman. ( she writes about him in her journal from 1932 ) he slept in a room that also connected to hers. I’ve grown to understand that sleeping in separate rooms is a way of sticking it out through the good and the bad and the snoring. Well that’s my best guess anyhow.

“Herman Johnson” aka Grampa Great
The photo that followed every move you’d make.

This portrait stared at us. His eyes moved every time we did.

Pretty easy for a kid to stay still and close their eyes and go to sleep.

At least Grandma Great was there to save us from the photo of him, if need be right? Knowing us kids I guarantee we said those exact words a number of times.

The Cousins
Back row ~ D.J., C.C., Auntie, Jennie D’Lee
Front row~ Karly, Jeremiah, Riley

Today’s writing prompt was fairly easy. Write a post card to a Grandparent.

Dear Gramma Great,

I hope this post card finds you reading about a woman in a fancy dress being smitten by a fella with pretty eyes and shined up shoes.

I hope your imagination is dancing in the rain because the wheel came off the old coup, so you and Grampa Great improvised.

I hope that you both are spinning round and round to music he is humming in your ear.

I hope your clip on earrings are sparkling when the moon peeks out to light up the ground beneath your feet.

Rilean Garner Johnson
Approximately taken in 1948

I hope he is looking into your eyes and telling you that he will always do whatever it takes to keep you warm and that the snow and ice will always melt and bring sunny days.

Herman and Rilean Johnson

I hope this post card finds you both still madly in love and that he still hides his Copenhagen from you.

Love always,

Lynn Rilean Nill

By the way I got married. A couple times. Oops. Not everyone finds their Herman right out of the gate.

Love always,

Lynn Rilean Smith


I miss and love you both dearly.