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Shirley Valentine's Family Has Lived in Swansea More Than a Century -- and She Plans to Stay

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Shirley uses a shopping cart as a walker as she navigates the Save-A-Lot. She pushes the cart to the cereal aisle and pulls a King Soopers flier from her pocketbook to compare prices. She can't waste a penny if she's going to stick to her $300-a-month stipend.

When she shops for herself, she buys ingredients for boiled dinners: pigs' feet and sauerkraut, stews and corned beef and cabbage. But she can't hand out perishables at the food bank, so she settles on eighteen boxes of Frosted Flakes, eighteen boxes of cornflakes, 24 cans of mandarin oranges and 24 cans of pears. The stacked cans and boxes soon tower over her head. She pushes the cart toward the checkout line, ignoring gawking children. The cashier, a young woman with a nose ring, grins at the sight of this small, elderly woman stockpiling groceries.

Shirley pays the cashier. "Thank you, dear," she tells her, and pushes her haul outside. Back in the van, Shirley pulls the handicapped-parking permit off the rearview mirror before she drives to the next store; she'll put it up again when she parks. A cop once fined her $90 because she had a pine deodorizer hanging from her rearview mirror, and she doesn't want to risk another ticket. That would cut into what she's able to use for the food bank.

Father Felix never joins her on these drives. "I wish he would," she says. "That would give him a better idea of the needs of the food bank and how much we do for the church." It would also demonstrate why she wants more money for these trips. The church does not reimburse her for gas or for wear and tear on the van; if she goes over budget, she takes the hit.

Shirley drives down Monaco Street toward the Commerce City King Soopers, passing an abandoned lot where the old dog track once stood. Her mother, Minnie Memmer Valentine, loved betting on the races; it was good family fun. "The refinery, Suncor, will be putting in a Boys and Girls Club there," she says. Although Shirley misses the dog-racing days, she's happy that the kids of Commerce City will have somewhere to go. She passes the Commerce City Recreation Center, where she volunteers, cutting elderly people's toenails. She often goes on outings with fellow seniors -- to dinner theaters, to restaurants, to museums, to the zoo. While she lives in Denver, Commerce City provides for her social needs; there is no community center in Swansea.

She pulls into the King Soopers parking lot, puts up her handicapped-parking permit, gets out and pushes an abandoned cart into the store. At the entryway, she gets into an electric cart and zips off toward the canned-goods aisle, nearly clipping oblivious shoppers. She stocks up on 24 cans of tomato soup, 24 cans of chicken noodle soup and forty cans of spaghetti sauce, then heads to the checkout. She knows the bagger and the cashier. "Thank you, dear," she says, as she always does.

On Thanksgiving, she will pick up her 93-year-old hairdresser, and they will head up to Black Hawk to try their luck at the casinos. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Father Felix will read a mass for Shirley -- one of her daughters paid the church $10 for the service -- and she will celebrate her 83rd birthday at a party with family and friends at Red Lobster. "They said, 'What do you want for your birthday?'" she recounts. "I said, 'I don't want anything.' I've got everything I need. If I want anything, I go and buy it. I'm at the age where I don't need all this junk. I'm trying to get rid of some of it as it is."

Continue for more about Shirley Valentine and Swansea, including additional photos.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris