May 19, 1980 12:00 PM

To avoid struggling with a girdle on a hot, sticky morning, put it in the refrigerator the night before. To cool off in the kitchen, press cucumber peels to your perspiring face. Stick rough elbows into leftover avocado skins for 10 minutes daily to smooth them. Two raw egg yolks rubbed into freshly shampooed, towel-dried hair will add a lustrous sheen. “Let the glop sit a spell, then rinse it off. Fantabulous!”

These and other weird, ingenious and eminently practical tips to take the drudgery out of housekeeping, personal grooming, gardening and cooking are the daily fare of Hints from Heloise, one of the most widely syndicated newspaper columns in the world. It appears in more than 600 papers with a circulation of 75 million readers in 21 countries. The advice is served up in a folksy, land-o’-Goshen style (she often signs her column “Hugs”) by the world’s best-known housekeeper—and best-paid too, with a fantabulous income of $90,000 a year. Now both her audience and her bank account will grow with the publication of Hints from Heloise (Arbor House, $12.95), a 530-page encyclopedia of suggestions, easy recipes, shortcuts and even a few awful jokes (“Know the best time to clean ceilings? When the kids have turned the house upside down”).

Heloise is actually Ponce Kiah Marchelle Heloise Cruse, 29, a lively, prematurely gray Texan (“I look like a 5’5″ skunk,” she says) who does not closely resemble the kitschy homebody who emerges from her column. Cruse is the bailli (president) of the San Antonio chapter of the Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, a 732-year-old French gourmet dining club. “I doubt if Heloise could cut that,” she smiles. “It’s a little out of character for a lady who can s-t-r-e-t-c-h tuna a hundred ways. Some of my friends don’t even know I’m Heloise. In my mind, I try to keep the two identities separate.” In addition to appreciating exotic cuisine, Cruse rides hot-air balloons, motorcycles and visits discos with her fiancé, David Evans, 32, a plumbing contractor.

Ponce—the name she goes by—lives with an aged Chihuahua and a pet ferret in a comfortable brick house in San Antonio. Heloise works in the house next door where, with the help of two full-time assistants, both housewives, she carefully tests the advice and recipes she gets in the mail—up to 1,000 letters a week—before they go into her column.

Ponce became Heloise reluctantly, and by inheritance. Her mother, Cathie Heloise Cruse, the wife of an Air Force lieutenant colonel, started the column in Hawaii in 1959. On a dare, she asked the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser for a job as a household hints columnist. The paper’s circulation promptly increased. When, after three years, it rose from 46,000 to 71,000, King Features syndicate bought the column and began to sell it to other newspapers. In 1966 the Cruses were transferred back to their native Texas (where they were divorced in 1968), and Heloise Sr. continued her column from there.

Daughter Ponce planned to be a mathematics teacher (“I think logarithms are a real turn-on”), but after she graduated from Southwest Texas State she agreed to help out with the column during the summer. “When the summer ended, I decided to stay on. Mother was getting frail and needed me.” Heloise Sr. died in 1977, and Ponce carried on as Heloise II. (She recently dropped the numeral.)

In writing the column, she says, “Clarity is next to godliness,” and gives what she would call a f’rinstance: “Several years back we did an item on cleaning the bottom of a birdcage. We wrote that a vacuum cleaner was a dandy way to do it. The item appeared, and we got a nasty letter from an irate man. It said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me to remove the bird first?’ ” As it turned out, the man’s fast-thinking daughter reversed the vacuum to “blow,” and the parakeet popped out, dazed but unharmed. Hugs.

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