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

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Shirley arrives at Our Lady of Grace with her minivan loaded with packaged food. Jody is waiting for her, and the two join up with Christian, a church employee. He helps them cart cans, 25-pound bags of rice and beans and boxes of cereal down the stairs to the church basement. Christian knows enough English to help Shirley and Jody speak with Josefina, the cleaning woman who helps out with the food bank. Jody and Josefina discuss the weather, the church and the food bank. Because of the holidays, parishioners have given more cans and boxes of food than normal; Jody hopes Josefina will tell Father Felix what a good job the parishioners did. The conversation is warm, but difficult for Jody. She wishes more people at the church spoke English, but she understands it can be hard to learn.

After Josefina leaves, Jody arranges the food on the shelves, separating cereals, soups, vegetables, fruits, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, tuna, rice, beans, ramen and a mix of spices, baking supplies and crackers. She doubles plastic bags and begins the long process of bagging each item. She works carefully; Jody's had back trouble ever since she was rear-ended on Highway 2 on her way to visit her mother, a trip she takes almost daily.

Jody takes two bags up the church stairs to make sure the pantry is full; there are now 23 bags for the staff to hand out over the next week, in addition to more supplies in the basement. She says her goodbyes to Father Felix and the parishioners counting money in the office.

As she walks downstairs, she talks about her time studying the catechism and learning how to pray the rosary. She remembers her First Communion. She points out Father Felix's changes to the building, how he installed hardwood floors and a marble altar; the archdiocese has given the church $50,000 to replace the roof. After many years of neglect at the building, Jody welcomes these changes -- but they also make Our Lady of Grace feel less and less like the parish she grew up in. She misses the shabby carpet, the old-fashioned wooden altar and the people who used to install Christmas decorations. Mostly, she misses English being the major language of the church, the way it was when she was a kid. "It just doesn't feel like our church anymore," she says.

Back in the basement, Jody locks up the food pantry and packs up the cardboard boxes to take to her house in Northglenn for recycling. She loads the boxes into her SUV while she waits for her mother to climb the stairs. Finally, the two get in Shirley's minivan, and again, Shirley drives out of Swansea to Commerce City and their favorite Mexican restaurant, La Casa del Rey.

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