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Friday, January 11, 2008

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Sweep for Phobias:
Vintage Hints from Heloise

Jennifer of The Word Cellar very sweetly sk-rted this post. If you want to help spread the old school Heloise gospel, go give it a nod.

One of my best friends has an unnatural fixation with the syndicated column, "Hints from Heloise". She will sit with her morning coffee, the newspaper, and come up with bizarre imaginary reader submissions to Heloise. I tell her frequently that God gave her that gift for blogging, but she comes from a good family and will have nothing to do with it.

Sometimes we'll marvel together over actual reader suggestions. Many of them are genuinely helpful and innovative. God knows, I need all the domestic wisdom I can get. But there's always a few that, well, I can see where the contributor might have thought—before their second cup of coffee in the morning, or after their second martini in the evening—that it was something the world needed to know. But I can't believe the conviction stayed with them all the way through the effort of writing it down, addressing an envelope and finding a stamp.

The contemporary Heloise, the beautiful silver-haired lady most of us recognize from the daily paper and womens' magazines, is actually the daughter of the original Heloise, who began publishing household hints in 1959. I am sure she was thoroughly delightful. The times must have been insane, as evidenced by the following gems excerpted from her 1961 booklet "Heloise's Housekeeping Hints," which I snapped up as a gift for my girlfriend when I found it in a used bookstore last week. The annotations are mine, but the quoted material is re-published verbatim.

I swear.

From the preface:

"Take all instructions in your stride. If you have a phobia or allergy...naturally sweep under your bed everyday."

A phobia of what? Monsters under the bed? Or it's a general phobia and you need to hide there?

"Keep in mind...the second wife ALWAYS has a maid!"

Note to self: ALWAYS be the second wife.

"Remember the paper sack, girls, it's used for so many things."

Like screaming into.

"May I remind you once again: that house will be there long after you are dead and buried. Funny, how houses outlive us!"

Ha-ha! Ha. Excuse me while I go sweep under my bed in an act of obsessive-compulsive self-soothing. And then crawl under it.

from "Dig into Closets":

"Wait until you are mad! This is the best time to clean. You will say to yoursef, 'I have kept this dress for two years thinking that I would remake it, but I am mad today so why not throw it out?'"

Stuff your anger (in paper sacks) to save for cleaning day.

once dug out of closets..."you will have this thought in your mind: 'Now I am ready in case I get sick or have a party, I will be prepared so that strange people in my kitchen won't talk about me.'"

Sweep for phobias; dust for paranoia.

on Laundry:

"DID YOU KNOW that table cloths can be bought now in pure dacron?"

Untainted by natural fiber.

The book includes a whole section on Heloise's innovative, labor-saving alternative to ironing: hanging the laundry on a line, then blasting the wrinkles out with the garden hose and letting it drip dry. It's unclear to me how this is more efficient than ironing, but she later notes that "A steam iron is worth its weight in gold," so perhaps hosing is a solution for first wives who's husbands won't buy them one.

Here is Heloise's hint for what then to do with the hosed, dry laundry:

"Put a sheet on the floor in front of the TV! This is Saturday night and the entire family will be there. Leave the clothes there...Psychologically, all the clothes that they have used during the week will be in front of their noses. Whether they are aware of it or not...they will absorb it. They are proud of that stack of clean clothes."

If not, next Saturday night, put all the dirty clothes in front of the TV. And the dishes, too. Psychologically, this is bound to have an impact.

But if not,

"A child's little wagon is a wonderful aid if you have no one to help you."

from "Paint Your Kitchen:"

"This is best done when your husband is home. Why? If he won't help you at least he can see how hard you have worked!"

Passive-aggressive tactics are marvelous for producing anger to stuff for future closet cleaning sessions.

on "Cleaning the Bathroom:"

"...but to save money and energy and get the best shine possible use an old washcloth slightly saturated with kerosene...the kerosene odor leaves in a few minutes."

Best not to do this while smoking.

"Alcohol is cheap, it removes soap film and leaves no water spots. But best of all, it is usually kept in the bathroom cabinet."

The laundry hamper is also a good place to hide it.

from "Mending Made Easy:"

"THE HOUSES will be here long after we wives are dead. Why kill yourself over them? I can think of lots better ways to die!"

The house is against you. The house is trying to kill you. The walls are whispering, "get out...get out..."

"Have you ever noticed how rested you feel after dinner when the dishes are done? This is the time to do some of your hard, time consuming chores."

Why, no! I hadn't! But why waste precious daytime hours on the tough stuff?

"Now is the time, if you have a daughter, to teach her how to sew her own buttons on! She will love it. Why! Because daddy is there to see her show off."

Best to have her stand in front of the TV, on the middle of the sheet piled with the laundry and the dishes.

"Red Dot Method:"

This section is a discourse on the discovery that a dot of red fingernail polish ("Every household woman's standby") is useful as a visual cue for a multitude of applications, such as marking the 450 degree setting on your oven, or

"TV channels! Another sourse of disgust. Just touch a small dot of fingernail polish on your favorite channel!"

I think it would be more fun to marry this technique with Amy Sedaris' prediliction for affixing google eyes to household items. Unless digging out your closet didn't alleviate your paranoia.

"How to Have a Whiter Wash:"

"...add your bleach and you detergent to your hot water. If you have Pine Sol in the house, add some of that...Lysol is just as good."

Lighter fluid, anti-freeze...anything that has a skull and cross bones on the bottle. Just toss it all in. Then,

"Have another cup of coffee, little laundress, and let's get something done."

Because everything until now was just a warm-up.

"Care of Blue Jeans:"

"Anyone who has a child, boy or girl, probably has blue jeans to launder."

It was a primitive era, before the dawn of Sevens. On the up side, no Mom jeans.

There is a great deal more exposition on the garden hose method of ironing here. And this comforting aside:

"And don't feel bad about not ironing underwear. It is an accepted fact today that not one man in a hundred whose wife has children wears ironed underwear."

The second wife does it. With the steam iron he bought her. Tramp.

Heloise suggests that if you must, you can remove wrinkles from your husbands boxers with the garden hose set to a light sprinkle. For futher time saving, I suggest you do this while he is wearing them.

The section ends with this non-sequitur:

"A funny thought just struck me. I wonder if Napoleon's underwear was ever ironed? But I bet you one thing, if he were living in this modern age, his modern housewife would use this method!"

In the final section of the book, a miscellany of household hints, Heloise also absolves you from the sin of not making the bed perfectly:

"Besides, when a wife pulls down the covers at night, she usually gives the bottom sheet a 'whack and a brush.'"

You could give your husband the same, while you're at it.

Folding and rolling instructions for jeans: "When you get to the crotch, stop."

This doubled as early sixties birth control.

Before there was Woolite, there was this method of hand washing:

Use a toilet plunger to "wash mens socks and all sorts of hand washing in the kitchen sink!"

Do it in the toilet bowl! Let your flush box do the rinsing!

"Rubbing alchohol is the most wonderful thing invented since tranquilizers."

even more wonderful than...

"Dishwashers. These are fabulous gadgets."

Finally, here is a bonus, free pattern for

Heloise Sack Blouse:

"For cleaning house, make a Heloise Sack Blouse from an old bath towel. Fold towel in half, sew up sides, leave opening for arms, make opening for neck. Don't forget the pockets! Grand for housework. Needs no ironing. Cool in summer, doesn't show water spots, etc. Towels make good shorts, too."

Now, put on your bath towel outfit, pile all the hosed laundry onto a sheet on the living room floor, pour kerosene, rubbing alcohol, bleach, and lysol into the washing machine. Add your pure dacron table cloths, and run.


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Blogger Neil said...

"This is best done when your husband is home. Why? If he won't help you at least he can see how hard you have worked!"

I knew I was doing it right. I only wash the dishes and make a racket when Sophia is watching TV.

And I didn't know there was a real-life Heloise!

12:32 PM  
Blogger seven said...

Hahahaaaa... this is so funny. It's hard to believe that that stuff is for real. "Only second wives have maids?" What the heck? So funny.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

"Have you ever noticed how rested you feel after dinner when the dishes are done? This is the time to do some of your hard, time consuming chores."


Yes, because preparing dinner, getting it into a toddler, and cleaning up the mess afterwards is, you know, easy and fun. And takes no time at all.

I actually laughed until I cried at this.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Carmen said...

I was laughing out loud reading this...thanks...

Maybe an even more "perfect" housewife would wear a pair of those those rainbow striped stripper shoes whilst folding the hosed-off laundry in a short little bath towel outfit. Anything to please our man...

that Heloise book fascinates me and yet frightens me at the same time...

2:54 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Oh, good stuff! I'm in a foul, foul post-flu mood today and this is the first thing that has made me laugh.

BTW, I hope you enjoyed the Ellen Gilchrist. She is one of my all-time favorites, especially her earlier work.

3:29 PM  
Blogger said...

This is great! This reminds of the 1950s Housewife Guide. You can find it online by googling that phrase.

We've come a long way, baby. ;)

3:48 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

OMG, how FUNNY! I'm trying not to laugh out loud here...people will think I've been in the alcohol, or the Pine Sol...

4:03 PM  
Blogger cce said...

Yes, a good torching is what every house needs...I LOVE this post. What a gold mine - that Heloise book. Thanks for the laugh now I'm off to let loose some bagged hostility and clean a closet or two.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Bk said...

OMG! That was too funny...I laughed soda out of my nose and had tears running down my face...Thanks I needed a good laugh today...

5:15 PM  
Blogger Susanne said...

"Keep in mind...the second wife ALWAYS has a maid!"

Now wait just a minute. I'm a second wife and I don't have a damn maid!


And what does that even mean?!? I vaguely feel that I should feel insulted by this statement, but I don't exactly know why.......

7:04 PM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

hee hee helloweeze

2:30 PM  
Blogger Miss Eliza said...

This just made my evening!

8:23 PM  
Blogger Kimblahg said...

oh dear god this is a funny post. i wonder, are you supposed to wear the heloise sack all by itself without a shirt underneath?

1:05 AM  
Blogger Bill Braine said...

"Rubbing alchohol is the most wonderful thing invented since tranquilizers."

I love how she slips in the tranquilizers there. "If you have a daughter, now is a good time to ask her to score you some Special-K. This 'housewife's helper' is available at most modern schoolyards."

8:40 PM  
Blogger Wayfarer Scientista said...

LOL! Oh, this was wonderful... I was rolling in laughter. I wonder what Martha's advice will sound like in 50 yrs time?

9:52 PM  
Blogger Gypsy at Heart said...

Unsuspectingly, I sat down with my morning cup of coffee to read your latest entry. Now there's coffee coming out my nostrils. I laughed so hard at your asides Kyran that I'm still wiping the tears from my face. Absolutely hilarious. Thanks for starting my day off with some snorted java and a bellyful of laughter. This post is a gem.

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, laughed so hard I spewed Starbucks--can Heloise help me get the chai out from the grooves of my keyboard? Perhaps I should just douse it with some alcohol and kerosene? Dab at it with a toilet brush??

2:26 PM  
Blogger Ron Davison said...

Hilarious. You could take the book down to the open mic night at the local comedy club - this act could become huge. And in the process, you could pioneer a new art form - stand up podcasts.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Wendee said...

OMG. This is fantastic! Just what I needed today. Snort!

7:22 PM  
Blogger Stephany said...

Paper sacks. Also useful for hyperventilating into. And for "hiding" your alcoholic beverage from the other mothers at the soccer game.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

I think Heloise needs to start a blog.

You know, after she's done all her chores and such.

8:23 AM  
Blogger MommyTime said...

This is hilarious...and it makes me want to dig out all the 19th century advice manuals I've collected and start blogging about their hilarities...I can recall some real doozies. Though sadly, nothing about tranquilizers. Thanks for an excellent laugh!

9:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer/The Word Cellar said...

I loved this post so much that I sk*rt-ed it!

8:56 PM  
Blogger erinberry said...

This post made me laugh so hard!!

2:01 PM  
Blogger 180/360 said...

Hi! First time here via Neil. This was a fantastic post!

12:17 AM  
Blogger Candlestring said...

Your comments between the quotes are the best!

This is why I like Peg Bracken's old books. Her wit isn't as biting as yours, but she's funny for her times. And more realistic than Heloise.

4:12 PM  
Blogger ❉ pixie ❉ said...

Hilarious. Her. You. Every bit of it.

9:26 PM  
Blogger jpdmom said...

Funniest thing I have read in ages. Thanks for the laughs!

Jamie R Lentzner

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants. Good thing I was wearing my Heloise Sack Shorts - very absorbent :) Thanks for the laugh!

9:12 PM  

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