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LEADERS, INFLUENCERS AND TEXAS HEROES

Like mother, like daughter: 'Hints From Heloise' still rules with household advice

Photo: San Antonio Express-News.

Nationally syndicated columnist Heloise, left, is pictured with her mother, Eloise, the original creator of the "Hints From Heloise" newspaper column.

Column started in Hawaii by mom in 1959

By Michael Quintanilla

For more than five decades, Heloise's household hints column has been helping readers clean up life's spills, stains and stinks.

Eloise Bowles Cruse started the column, which was taken over by her daughter, San Antonio's Heloise — whose full name is Poncé Kiah Marchelle Heloise Cruse Evans.

Ring around the collar? Cheap hair shampoo will get it out. Red wine on the carpet? Mix half a teaspoon of mild white dishwashing liquid with a cup of lukewarm water. Dab away.

And then this one, just for kicks — or maybe not: Dead grass in your lawn? Spray paint it green. Problem solved.

Heloise’s mom did that before she became a household name.

"Mother, being mother, took her green-colored hair spray to some zoysia grass that had gone brown," Heloise recalled about the time her family lived in Honolulu, in the late 1950s and early '60s. Her father, Marshal "Mike" Cruse (who died in 2006 at 86), was a lieutenant colonel and Cold War-era pilot stationed at Hickam AFB. He had earned his wings at San Antonio's Kelly AFB.

Eloise was known for spraying her hair different colors: lavender, purple, emerald green and, before a visit to the White House, blue to match her dress, which left President Lyndon B. Johnson speechless. In Honolulu, she would chat up other military wives, which led to sharing household advice, which led her to march into the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper office and pitch her column idea to the editor.

She even offered to work for free for 30 days.

The editor bit, and her column, "The Readers' Exchange," was born in 1959. She soon became known as the "Island Wonder," leading to a 1961 Time magazine story about her and, months later, a contract with King Features Syndicate, owned by Hearst. The column was renamed "Hints From Heloise." The "H" was added to Eloise's name for alliteration.

Eloise — born with twin sister Louise in 1919 in Fort Worth — wrote the column until 1977, when she died at 58 from heart disease.

As a child, Heloise, who was born in Waco, picked up on her mother's problem-solving skills. In her teens, she spent summers — and later, after college — working with her mom on the column. 

Heloise II, as her mother called her, wanted to teach math after graduating with a business degree in 1974 from San Marcos' Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). But when her mother died, she took over the column and has since written more than 10 books about hints as well as columns for Good Housekeeping magazine.

Like her mother, Heloise said all she ever wanted to do was help women and men solve life’s little — and big — messes with vinegar, baking soda and the wiping muscle of wadded up newspaper.

After all, if anyone can knock out ketchup, oil, grease, sludge and mud, Heloise can.
Why have those household hints endured for more than 50 years?

What her mother started, and what she has carried on, is service journalism at its best, Heloise said.

"I’m helping people — and that's what readers want and need. They also trust in what I’m doing, in my voice," she said.

Longtime friend Frank A. Bennack Jr., who is executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst Corp., said Heloise is loved by readers because she comes across as the homemaker's personal friend.

"Her whole approach is to make life easier for the reader and save precious time," he said. "Readers somehow feel that friendship and continue to respond."

Bennack said he also admires her determination.

"She never gives up on the task of keeping her work relevant and widely distributed,” he said. "She saw her mother's tenacity in turning the column into a success, and she hasn’t missed a beat since succeeding her mother as Heloise.

"So remarkable was Heloise’s skill in continuing the work of her mother seamlessly that most readers never noticed or knew that the original had passed the baton to her. Her mother was the creator and founder, but Poncé gets her own place in service journalistic history."

Heloise is on the phone often — sometimes three hours at a time — chatting up dry cleaning, laundry, chlorine, soap and detergent experts and chemists. The amount of research she does is phenomenal.

"I can tell you more about chlorine than you’d like to know," she said, explaining that the chlorine concentration in a bottle of bleach has changed since the days when her mother extolled the whitening power of a cup mixed with a gallon of water.

She often hears from women who use bleach the way their mothers or grandmothers taught them — and wonder why their whites aren’t white.

"That’s the incorrect way of bleaching these days," she said. "That's why their whites are turning yellow."

That's why she often updates her mother’s hints with her column and books. What used to work then might not work now. Over time, many hints have needed tweaking because fabrics, cleaning products and surfaces — such as television screens that have gone from glass to plasma — have changed, she said.

"I can take a complex issue and boil it down so that readers understand it. I’m very good at doing that," she said. "I’m the conduit, the facilitator to solving a problem. That's what I love to do.”


A HANDFUL OF HINTS

The benefits of baking soda

Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge and scrub away dirt and grime from kitchen appliances, counters, the refrigerator, sink and drain. Also works on a butcher block or wooden cutting board; rinse well and dry.

Remove burned-on food in a pot with 3 tablespoons of baking soda in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the gunk starts to lift. Scrub clean.

Keep shoes fresh by sprinkling some baking soda inside (do not use on leather shoes). Do the same for your smelly gym bag.

Stinky trash compactor? Sprinkle baking soda in the bag every once in a while to keep odors at bay.

Dog toys in need of a cleaning? Make a solution of baking soda and water and give the toys a good scrubbing.

The virtues of vinegar

Deodorize a room by placing shallow containers of vinegar around.

For quick cleanups, keep a spray bottle of vinegar on hand. It will clean appliances, mirrors, sinks, faucets and the toilet bowl. When the vinegar dries, the smell goes away.

For sparkling windows, add ½ to 1 cup of vinegar to ½ gallon of water. Spray on a window and dry with crumpled newspaper.

To make clay pots look like new, wipe with a cloth soaked in undiluted white vinegar.

If your porch or patio has exposed brick that could use a little freshening, scrub with a brush dipped in full-strength white vinegar.

Source: “Handy Household Hints From Heloise” (Rodale, 2009)

Republished with permission from the San Antonio Express News.

   

 

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