BY KRISTINE SANDRICK
Living in Las Cruces gave me the opportunity to meet many interesting people. One in particular was Naomi Baughman … she seemed glamorous, but also shy and enigmatic. At 90-something she witnessed so much in her lifetime. Yet, when I asked her, she seemed to keep “the good stuff” to herself. This is part 2 of the story that began last Friday at WordScarab.com. (Click here to read part 1.)
Finally in 1944, the career girls left the States in a convoy for London.
London during the raids “There were maybe 70 ships,” she said, “and we were on this little Norwegian freighter that carried 8 passengers – 4 male and 4 female. I’ll never forget the bathtubs. Everyday I was going to take a bath and I’d start taking off my clothes and thought ‘if a U-boat hits us … I’ll be naked out there,’ so I put my clothes back on. Well, you had to think of those things,” she said. We share a laugh.
Naomi was assigned to the auditing department in office of war information, OWI, which after the war became Radio Free Europe.
“Yes, I was there during the bombings,” she said. “The British took it in stride so we took it in stride. But there was one bomber – either the V1 or V2 – as long as you heard it overhead you were safe. The other one, you couldn’t hear very well but the minute you did you knew you weren’t safe,” she said.
Amidst the London bombings she turned 30 and became recognized as a good number cruncher. She met Victor Dale Baughman, a “charming American Army officer” – or so she thought – who courted her nearly a year before proposing, taking her to dinners and the theater, in spite of the air raids.
“There were big holes in the ground,” she recalled, “and people were going to the train stations with their bedclothes, thinking they would be safer there.”
Charming husband vanishes After the war, Victor returned home and sent for Naomi. It was the only way for her to get back to the states without being reassigned. They married in Coral Gables, Florida, July 1946.
Then, while he was in law school, the real Victor began showing up in the relationship. The charming man was gone.
“During the war he acted differently … he’d come over in the car and we’d go to plays and dinners,” she said. “He was more romantic early on. After we were married, he started getting this Prussianistic attitude … he was very rigid, cold and very hard on me while the sun rose and set with his mother.”
An unhappy relationship didn’t prevent the couple from traveling throughout post-was Europe. In fact, for Naomi, it might have been a great escape. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he was sent to Korea and Japan. Naomi went back to London to wait for him.
“Did he compensate for his attitude by buying you this jewelry,” I asked.
“No.” She seemed indignant. “My jewelry came after I was a widow.”
The Baughman’s were investors and after Victor died Naomi said she had a good income and few financial responsibilities.
Naomi shares the spoils
“I started buying clothes, paying at least $500 for an outfit,” she said. When she had enough clothes, she started buying jewelry. At the time of the interview, she had just sold close to $225,000 in jewels to a local dealer.
“But that’s what was left. Over the years I sent a bunch of it down to a priest in Mexico,” she said. I was stunned. Giving “bunches” of jewels to a priest in Mexico.
I asked what brought them to El Paso.
We had friends there,” she said. “After Vic retired – well, we had an oceanfront home in Fort Lauderdale, but that gets boring – it’s a black void at night unless a ship comes by – so after three years we came to El Paso.”
They were married 28 years before Victor died in 1974. Next came Dale Brown.
“He was sitting on the floor in Beulah’s Antiques in El Paso and I asked his advice about something. He also worked in the antique business in New York but was never a real antique dealer himself,” she said.
“And when did you marry?” Wrong question. “We’re not married … I didn’t want to be married. Didn’t want to have the restriction on me I had with Vic,” she said. What was the highlight of their relationship? “I don’t know really. Just the day to day,” she said.
“Then, what would you say has been the joy in your life?”
“I really wanted to travel to different countries. My dream was to take Spanish and get a job in Spain or South America as a Spanish stenographer. So when I had a chance to travel with the civil service it was great,” she said.
More to the legacy, but we’ll never know “No, I never had children. It just happened that way,” she said. When asked about her life’s legacy. She had difficulty finding the words but I could tell she wanted to give me something.
“I never went before the promotion board,” she said. “ They asked if I would take the job. My last job was during the draft days. I know General Hershey was concerned about losing track of the doctors but after I got it organized, General Hershey and Colonel Ames were very satisfied with what I did. General Hershey couldn’t see and Colonel Ames couldn’t hear – so they were a good pair.”
“Would you say your work ethic defined who you are?”
“Oh, yes. I couldn’t do much in the community until after Vic died. Then I got so involved with the (El Paso art) museum and was on the board of trustees. I organized so many different things around town … my little mind would say, ‘what can I do to bring out more facts.’ I was always doing that. But I can’t tell you now what some of them were.”
How I wish you could “bring out more facts,” Naomi. I know there’s much more depth to this polished little jewel.