Recollections on the Closing of Martin's
I saw in last month's Real Estate Guide that Martin's Store in El Rito
closed for good on August 31st. I admit to a wave of nostalgia
because as a child I spent a lot of time in El Rito. Tom Martin,
brother of Greg (the most recent owner), was my best friend and each
summer we would spend time in each other's domain. I have gone
through El Rito occasionally for the last fifty years or so, and I
imagine Tom has passed through Santa Fe a time or two, but we just
lost touch. Sometimes close friendships don't survive; no fault, not
even harebrained disputes over Monopoly games, is involved -- it's just
attrition. The closing of the store did prompt some very personal and
fond memories, among them part of the reason I have so much reverence
My mother came to El Rito in 1944 and lived in an adobe apartment
behind Tom Sr. and Katy Martin's house catty-corner from the store.
Her job was just down the road at the Maternal and Child Health Center
as the receptionist. The Center was supported, in part, by Georgia
O'Keeffe and run by the Martin family matriarch, a nurse who was
always referred to as Dambo. The sprawling, marvelous adobe home
owned by Dambo and George Martin senior was opposite the clinic and
was the center of the large family's life.
The house was, is, one of the finest examples of northern New Mexico
earthen vernacular still standing. Long, L-shaped with a full-length
wooden veranda facing south, contiguous rooms accessed by a connecting
door or, for privacy, by coming and going via the portal. The
property has a pond, a barn, corrals and, significantly, a
As it happened, Tom Martin and I were best friends and Cam Martin and
Alex, our respective older sisters, were also best friends. The two
sets of friends had quite different approaches to fun; Cam and Alex
rode horses bareback and, on rare occasions, made futile attempts to
be refined, while Tom and I dammed the creek, caught snakes, built a
raft for the pond and were generally dirty but well behaved. There
were some exceptions.
During one of Cam and Alex's rare moments of refinement they set
up a little table and chairs and had a tea party on the bank of the
acequia under a magnificent cottonwood. Tom and I lurked and spied
and thought what a precious little tableau was unfolding and, during a
short hiatus when our sisters were gone, tipped the whole works into
the flowing ditch.
This is a vivid recollection because it resulted in one of several
monumental whoopings that I received as a child. The rod was not
spared in those days. Worse than the whaling was the dressing-down by
Dambo who, when disapproving, could not only take the bloom off a
glorious victory, but convince you unequivocally that you were beyond
reformation and hell-bound for sure.
I noted in last month's article that the store had closed on my
birthday. What a gift, I thought, not that the store closed, but that
it and the Martins had provided me with such an enduring connection.
I've lost touch with that family except in my old earthen heart, half
of which at least still resides in El Rito.