Modern-day hints from Heloise They aren't all about housework

July 19, 1992|By Leslie Barker | Leslie Barker,Dallas Morning NewsDallas

Yes, her hair is really a natural silver. No, she has no plans to dye it.

Yes, she is younger by several decades than many people expect her to be.

No, she doesn't look like Aunt Bee.

Her full name is Ponce Kiah Marchelle Heloise Cruse Evans -- but you and I can just call her Heloise.

The great hint-meister is used to people thinking she's a straight-laced Miss Priss the age of your dad's unmarried sister. She's used to people telling her she shouldn't drink coffee -- "Your mother," they write, "died of a heart attack. You don't need the caffeine."

And she's getting used to letters from well-meaning readers who say, "You have such a pretty face. Why don't you cut and color your hair?"

Sheesh. Unfortunately, she has no hints for dealing with smart alecks. She does, however, have hints spanning the alphabet. Rather appropriately, her latest book -- for which she just finished a promotional tour -- is "Heloise from A to Z" (Perigree Books, $10.95).

What can possibly be new in the world of hintdom? Well, computerized shopping lists, for one. (Found under the heading "Shopping lists, computerized.")

The hint: "After you've listed every possible thing you could or would buy at the supermarket, save the list in the computer and make a printout when needed. Keep the list on your fridge door and highlight items to be bought."

When her mother started the column in the 1950s, there were no personal computers. Nobody had heard of fax machines or cellular phones. Women never traveled alone, and certainly not on business trips.

But Heloise is here to give hints for what's happening today.

Admittedly, hints sounds "quaint," she says. So her "Hints from Heloise" column, which runs in about 500 newspapers, has a new tag line -- "It's not just household hints any more."

She gives tips on how to avoid consumer scams, how to check out insurance companies.

Others help people master modern technology. Example: On the back of her micro-cellular phone, she has taped its basic instructions. Whenever she travels, she carries five $1 bills and lots of change somewhere easy to reach. That way, she doesn't have to pull out a wad of money from her wallet to tip somebody.

Simple? Sure. Heloise doesn't profess to be a genius. She's just observant and has common sense.

Every week, Heloise and her staff --four full-timers and two part-timers -- receive 2,000 to 3,000 hints at her office-home in San Antonio, Texas. Many are repeats, and some are, she admits, silly enough to make her and her employees roar with laughter.

She won't divulge those hints.

"What's dumb or stupid to you and me, to someone else it's not," she says. "There are hints in this book I think are pretty stupid. But when I get 10 letters in a month asking this question or sharing this hint, I heed it."

Protection from hair spray

One hint, for example, stands out. A hair spray-wearing woman holds the cap of the can over her ear while she sprays. That way, her earrings and her ears stay free of hair spray.

Heloise found that rather amusing, until she mentioned it to a female sportscaster who was interviewing her. The woman thought it was a wonderful hint.

"Who am I to judge?" Heloise says.

Often people share the mistakes they make, some rather outlandish. They sign their names. She's amazed at -- and impressed by -- their self-deprecation. Several such escapades are found in her new book, under the heading "Letters of Laughter."

A particular favorite is from a man who read Heloise's advice to use cat litter for soaking up driveway oil stains.

"He put 25 pounds of litter all over his driveway," she says. "The next day, he woke up, and every cat in a two-mile radius had used it."

L The book also contains special sections on stains and odors.

"I don't know if it's a comment on America," she says, "but there are so many questions about smells."

People still ask the best way to remove ballpoint ink from shirts. And though she's told them time and time again, when enough people ask, she'll publish the hint again.

(OK, here it is: First, put paper towels under the stain. Then wet a cloth with rubbing alcohol or hair spray and blot the stain, changing the paper towels as they get soaked. Rub liquid laundry detergent onto the remaining stain and wash as usual.)

Letters from latchkey kids

She still receives most of her letters from women, but 20 percent to 30 percent now come from men. Kids write, too -- usually latchkey kids with questions about starting the laundry or cooking dinner. One boy wrote to say he can't have a dog, but he taped his friend's dog barking. When someone rings the doorbell when his mom's not home, the boy plays the tape.

"Unfortunately, this [latchkey kids] is a fact we have to face," Heloise says. "If I can pass around hints to help, I'm doing my job."

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