Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Hometown heroine #2: Heloise
One of the immutable laws of used-book foraging: Every thrift shop in America will have at least one Hints from Heloise; if not Heloise, then it shall be Erma Bombeck's If Life's a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits? Or else: Helter-Skelter.
In San Antonio, the likelihood of running across a Heloise book increases exponentially—have I ever been to a Goodwill or garage sale without spying a volume or three of her handy hausfrau hints? Don't think so. The proto-Martha Stewart, who's written a ton of books and whose columns are still syndicated in some 500 newspapers—who knew there were so many newspapers left?—is one of San Antonio's few local celebrities (I already addressed the city's meager supply of those here). Owning one of her books is pretty much a given, like having a big metal star on your garage, a windmill on your lawn and a copy of Lonesome Dove in the guest room.
The brief history of Heloise is that her mom was a very resourceful military wife, who started writing a column for the Honolulu Star in 1959. She groomed her daughter, whose name was not Heloise at the time, as her successor, and by the time Mom died, the daughter had given up her dream to become a math teacher and was ready to dispense hints about eradicating body odors, wine stains and ring around the collar to an eager populace. Now an attractive 60something woman with silver shoulder-length hair, Heloise seems pretty cool. According to her website, she tools around her neighborhood—which I think is rather near mine—on an old-school Russian motorcycle. Her schnauzer rides shotgun in the sidecar (I recently saw a similar photo of Brad Pitt in Us Weekly, but son Pax was riding shotgun, not a schnauzer. Stars: so like us!). My husband swears he saw her driving a black Lexus with tinted windows over by our supermarket—the HINTS vanity plate was the tip-off. As far as I know, Heloise doesn't have a daughter who plans to change her name to Heloise upon her mother's death and assume the mantle of homekeeping maven, so you have to wonder—like the employees of Oprah's Harpo media, or Martha Stewart Omnimedia's stockholders—what will happen when Heloise passes on.
So, her books are pretty ubiquitous in these parts but the series I've collected here, plucked from three different sales over the past seven years, seems to be fairly rare. Published by Pocket Books in the early ’70s, they feature a sex kittenish fantasy of a housewife on their covers. From her pantyhose to her sexy orthopedic shoes and deer-in-the-headlights expression, this chick is a ’70s wet dream. She reminds me of the women in the Playboy magazines my friend's father used to hide in the back of his bedroom closet (he didn't hide them well enough, obviously). The laundry-themed cover is so "Oopsie, I pulled a Bobby Brady!" And the one where she's pulling a little red wagon full of Coke bottles—WTF? Where is she going?? And the career gal cover with the totally random St. Bernard is just baffling.
These covers are a tad misleading, however. I regret to report that the tips inside these books aren't even a teeny bit racy. Just the usual collection of chestnuts culled from readers' letters about how to eliminate shower curtain mildew and how to throw a "stew party"—alas, no tips about how to throw a key party.