Linda Martinez recalls the days when she could sort the mail, have it all placed inside post office boxes by 8 a.m., and then eat a big breakfast at The Cow Palace before heading back to work.
Those days are long gone — today she's lucky if she gets lunch. But Amado's postmistress wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I tell my customers that I’m going to be here until I’m 120 and they’ll just have to wait until I can get to my window,” Martinez, 64, says with a laugh.
Martinez is among the best-known residents of Amado, a community 13 miles south of Green Valley that boasted 862 people during the 2010 census. The post office is technically in Arivaca Junction, just north of the Pima-Santa Cruz County line near Lakewood Estates. Arivaca Junction has about 1,000 people.
A new home
The 5-foot raven-haired woman with a constant smile arrived in Tucson in the 1980s from Wyoming. After two months of dealing with heavy traffic, the former rancher convinced her then-husband to look for a smaller community.
They ended up in Amado. Before long, the mother of two found herself involved in a mobile health clinic. Over the years, she’s been a CPR instructor, EMT and firefighter. She also helped create the Amado Food Bank.
She started out her career with the U.S. Postal Service helping sort mail at the Tubac post office and at gift shop owner Kay Stupy’s store in Amado.
Twenty-four years ago, Martinez placed a bid to become Amado’s postmistress and won the rights to run a contract postal station. Her customers live in Amado, Arivaca Junction and Elephant Head and along Arivaca Road.
She’s outgrown two locations and is about to outgrow her current office, a 900-square-foot former two-bedroom home just north of what used to be The Longhorn Bar & Grill on Nogales Highway.
Inside are 350 post office boxes. Outside, deliveries are made to another 500 boxes, either curbside or in clusters.
Every time Martinez has moved, she’s brought along her window, a 65-year-old wooden structure with bars.
“It gives the post office class,” she says. “It’s Amado.”
On one side of Martinez’s window is a small lobby. On the other side there’s a sorting room, a restroom and an open space with a huge safe and desk. The 350 post office boxes help to form an L-shaped hallway.
Not a 'piece of cake'
Martinez’s work day starts about an hour before she opens her window. Every week day morning, the U.S. Postal Service drops off at least one “cage” filled with that day’s mail and parcels.
She scans the incoming parcels and certified and registered letters and then sets to work separating the mail that is delivered by contract carrier Stuart Sanderson from the mail she puts in the post office boxes. As she places her mail in two-foot trays, Sanderson organizes his by street.
When Sanderson started his job 25 years ago, he used to be able to fit the mail from Sahuarita, Green Valley, Amado, Tubac, Tumacácori, Arivaca and Nogales into his Volkswagen Rabbit.
Now he can’t get all of the mail for Amado and Elephant Head into a 100-cubic-foot vehicle, he says.
November and December can get “crazy” thanks to the number of parcels that come through, Sanderson and Martinez say. Their 80-square-foot sorting room is sometimes jammed with 120 or more parcels.
On a recent Tuesday, Martinez had four feet of mail to place inside mail boxes. She starts out in the small part of the “L” in the summer because it’s not heated or cooled. She flips her starting point in the winter for the same reason.
Although she hopes to have her task done by 11 a.m., she wasn’t going to make her deadline this day.
A steady stream of customers came to her window to pick up packages, drop off packages, buy money orders and purchase stamps. She often sells up to 30 money orders a day; many of her customers are “old school” and deal strictly with cash.
Martinez recalls with a laugh the time one of her customers made the comment that her job looked like a “piece of cake.” She invited the woman to join her for the day to help out.
“She never came back,” Martinez says.
Even when she’s not sorting, delivering mail or working the counter, Martinez is keeps busy ordering supplies and stamps and doing paperwork. Every night she has to file a report with the federal government about stamp sales, post office box rentals and money order sales. She gets audited yearly.
On this particular day, some of Martinez’s visitors took care of business and left. Others lingered to chat.
At one point, Martinez unlocked her door, stepped into the lobby and gave a woman a hug.
Later, a tearful Martinez explained a relative of the woman was hours away from dying.
She probably knows 85 percent of her customers by name, she says.
“If they’re sick, I know they’re sick, and if there’s a death in the family I send a sympathy card from both of us,” Martinez says, referring to Sanderson. “I’ve watched kids grow and have kids of their own.”
The people who come into the post office aren’t “customers,” she said.
“They’re my people. They’re mine.”
Only once in 24 years has Martinez had to call 911. A resident began calling her names and threatening her when she wouldn’t open up a post office box for him. The box was in his wife’s name and he didn’t have the key.
“I didn’t care because I was behind my bars, but he threatened a customer who came to my defense,” Martinez says. “He crossed a line and I wasn’t going to have that.”
She banned the man from the post office.
Daniel West has been living in Amado since 1985. He’s positive Martinez’s job isn’t an easy one, but he said she always goes above and beyond to take care of them.
“She’s always very concerned about us. She’s just a good person,” West says.
Seberiano Napoles, another longtime Amado resident, visits the post office twice a week and says Martinez is like family. Her daughter went to school with his granddaughter and her son used to fish near his home.
“When I need something she always takes the time to help me, she takes more time than anyone else would,” he says.
One never knows what’s going on in people’s lives, Martinez says.
“Sometimes it just takes a little smile just to let them know you care.”
Her family back in Wyoming frequently ask when she’s coming home.
“I tell them I am home,” she says. “I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”
Kim Smith | 547-9740