Luis “Louie” Romero known as friend to the community
The “gone fishin’” sign has been put out one last time for Luis “Louie” Romero.
After a short battle with cancer, the lifelong Valencia County resident died on Aug. 1. Romero was 76.
Described by his children as a man who lived his life with a “matter-of-fact attitude,” Romero showed himself to be a generous man with the people of the community.
Most residents of Belen and the Pueblitos area knew Romero best as patrons of his store, the eponymous Romero’s, which he continued to operate until shortly before his death.
He and his late wife, Angelina, purchased the property on N.M. 116 in 1966. Originally a filling station, the business quickly became a one-stop shop for locals.
Romero added services such a grocery store, propane and kerosine sales, new and used auto parts, a pawn shop, even a feed store and car wash.
The couple sold firewood and coal for winter heat, sending son Anthony to Gallup and Grants to bring back bags of coal.
Sitting on the patio of the house where they grew up, four of Romero’s six children talk and laugh, and remember their father. Catherine Forde Romero is the first to say it was an unusual way to grow up, living next to a scrap yard.
The five acres of cars became their playground, far from what would be considered safe for children today.
“We would jump from car to car on the hoods and roofs,” Catherine said.
The game went well, Gabriel Romero said, until one brother made a leap onto a convertible. But with no serious injuries to report, they carried on.
The four brothers and their two younger sisters created mazes of motorcycle trails amongst the cars, playing and exploring until their father called them into the house for dinner with a sharp whistle.
And it wasn’t just the children that could be found amongst the 650 units. When Romero ran a pawn shop at the store, he took in the usual televisions, firearms and jewelry. But sometimes, someone needed to pawn something a little unusual.
“People would pawn their goat or cow,” Anthony said. He shrugs. “It was the most valuable thing they had.”
While a bovine grazing behind you while hunting for a crankshaft might sound unnerving, the siblings said no harm ever came to a customer.
It was a different story when it came to the family’s own guard geese though.
For Monica Aragon and sister Catherine, hanging laundry out to dry was a moderately dangerous mission. The girls would check that the coast was clear, rush to hang the wet items and hope they didn’t get “pinched” by a marauding gander.
Catherine said her father, an Army veteran, always wanted to own a business.
“He wanted to open a restaurant, but he didn’t want to overwhelm my mother,” she said.
Anthony said his father would try any venture and never seemed to worry that it wouldn’t work out.
“When one thing was slow, there were two or three other things that picked up,” Anthony said.
Gabriel said his father always looked for a way to help out people.
When the grocery store finally closed, Anthony remembers his parents going through the books one last time.
“He kept these books under the counter, and he would let people have charge accounts. I couldn’t believe how much they were owed. When I said something, he asked me, ‘Are you hungry?’ I said, ‘No.’ So he told me, ‘Don’t worry about it,’” Anthony said.
His father explained the people he let charge groceries had families to take care of and needed the food far more than he needed the money.
“He wasn’t hurt because he wasn’t hurting,” said Monica.
Catherine said he lived by the unofficial New Mexico creed of “manana.”
“If it doesn’t happen today, it will happen tomorrow,” she said.
And Romero extended that same patience and generosity to his children, teaching them to ride a motorcycle, shoot a gun, land a fish and be independent.
Anthony and Gabriel remember as young boys, setting off from their house at the scrap yard, jumping fences and crossing ditches in the early morning hours, to go hunting by themselves on the mesa west of the interstate.
“We just went on our own,” Anthony said. “He taught us all about gun safety and how to hunt. We’d come back with two or three things hanging from our belts.”
Monica remembered many weekends when her father would load up their motorcycles and take them out to the east side of the county, where Las Maravillas now sits but was just wide open nothing then, and let them ride all day.
“He’d point to a tree and tell us if we got lost, go to that tree and he’d find us,” she said. “And if we ran out of gas, he’d have to come find us.”
Whether it was deep sea fishing in Mexico, camping in Red River, a chance encounter with a nudist camp or just sitting with a grandchild, sharing stories, Romero was always caring and very loving, his children say.
He was a gardener, an avid reader, not that great of a forklift driver to hear them tell it, and above all, a father, a provider and a friend to the community.
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