Carmella Spagnolo | 1927–2019

A Glimpse into the Reign of the Duchess of Dunwoodie

Kellyn Shoecraft

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Carmella “Millie” Spagnolo, September 18, 1949 | Photographer unknown. Photo of the photo credit to author.

It’s hard to accurately describe my grandmother, Millie Spagnolo, who from now on I’ll refer to by her real name, which is Nanny.

As a child, after hearing one of my stories about Nanny, a friend asked, “Oh, is that your mean grandma?” Mean is not the right word, not even close. Nanny was brutally honest so her manners and word choice could be a little harsh if you didn’t know her well.

But any flair of her temper was quick to subside. It’s true that whenever she babysat my siblings and me for the weekend she threatened to leave us stranded (“That’s it! I’m going home!” she’d say). We always knew it was a bluff, partly because she couldn’t drive and there were no taxis near us in the suburbs of NYC, but more importantly, because she forgave quickly. Before long all would be forgotten and we’d be playing a game of rummy or enjoying an episode of Family Ties.

My sister, Alison, Nanny and me (and second cousin, Ricardo, in the background). Thanksgiving, 2012 | Image credit: author

Nanny had a good and solid heart. One great example of her compassion for others was evident when I sat with her while she watched My 600 Pound Life…one of the world’s many unnecessary reality shows.

When my husband walked into the room, Nanny put up her hand as he cleared the doorway, “Stop, Nate!” she shouted, “You shouldn’t have to see this.” She wanted to protect Nate, perhaps maintain his innocence from the realities of living life as a 600 lb person. Nanny was always looking out for your best interest.

If I had to guess, I’d say Nanny’s favorite place in the world was the garage under her apartment. We called it ‘The View’. She set up shop, put out chairs for the passersby, and sat while watching folks stroll down Midland Avenue. Sometimes her guests would arrive before her and wait patiently for her to make her entrance. Everyone was welcome, but if they started to get annoying, she was quick to stand up and leave them there by themselves.

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Kellyn Shoecraft

Navigating sibling & parent loss and trying to change the way people support each other in grief. Founder at www.hereforyou.co