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South Texas Living

Household hints, tips from years past

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
June 11, 2014 | 3,972 views | Post a comment

I have a set of very old composition books on loan from my friend, Judge Sara. One of them has pages and pages of songs on “health” with each one arranged to fit tunes from popular songs. Songs such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo.” There are also songs for Thanksgiving and Christmas with tunes from “Abide With Me” and “Juanita”; and a spring song to the tune of “Old Black Joe.” The name on the front cover reads Miss Clio Youngblood. I remember a teacher by the name of Clio Votaw. I always thought her name was spelled Cleo. I believe she is one and the same. I believe she was a sister to Mr. Joe Youngblood, who was a mail carrier for many years. There is no date on the composition book but the pages are yellowed and brittle.

There is another composition book with no name. On its pages are glued clippings from the Express News, all about household hints. Before Heloise there was a Mary Ellen Pinkham (Mary Ellen’s Helpful Hints) and a Polly Cramer (Polly’s Pointers).

From Mary Ellen come these tips: “If dark clothes become streaked when you starch them, add a little liquid coffee to the starch. This will eliminate the streaks.” Another hint: “If nothing else has worked to remove a grease spot from a solid-colored item of clothing, try this, but only if you feel you have nothing to lose. Work lard through the material, covering every inch of the spot evenly. Wash the garment thoroughly in hot suds and rinse well. My guess is the spot will have disappeared.” Really? Lard to get rid of grease?

This one is my favorite! “Fill a large bowl with cheap wine and set it under the sink. Roaches will drink it, get drunk, fall in, and them drown. This is not a joke. It has been known to work with great results.” Or, how about this one? “Place a bowl of dry cement and a bowl of water next to each other and guess what happens?”

And from Polly’s Pointers: “Dear Polly, the best solution I have found for washing windows, including those on the cars is 1/2 cup ammonia and 1/8 cup vinegar in a quart of water. I have used this for years and I think it is fantastic.” And this one, “Dear Polly, my throw rugs go all limp when they are washed, so to remedy this I lay them on the outdoor picnic table face down and spray them with spray starch before letting them dry thoroughly in the sun. They look like new again.”

Then there were some from Heloise’s columns, but I remembered that I had one of her books and I looked it up and found it. It is a 1963 edition of Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints. On the inside of the cover is this memo, “Compliments of Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, 1963 Annual Convention, San Antonio, Texas.” It was given to me when I attended the convention with Henry.

Here are some of Heloise’s hints from that era. “You can solve the problems of too-thin diapers for children who wet the bed at night by using old flannel receiving blankets.” “For mothers of young babies (which I certainly was at the time) who do not like plastic bibs: take one of those little fingertip towels with fringe on the ends and cut into it. Shape a neck and bind it with bias tape. The bib can go right into the laundry, and no ironing is required.” Surely she didn’t mean that the plastic bibs required ironing!

Another hint: “Stale beer is a good solution for setting the hair as it gives the hair ‘body.’ Just dampen the hair and roll. The hair will not retain the beer odor when dry. Many beauty salons use this method.” I never got a chance to try it. Around our house beer didn’t last long enough to get stale!

And how about this hint? “Having trouble drying your crinoline petticoats? Just put them over an open umbrella.” The younger generations don’t know what a crinoline petticoat is!

I had so much fun browsing through this book.

Ammonia is mentioned in a lot of cleaning tips. Henry and I have been using a mixture of ammonia, dishwashing soap, and water for years. It’s not just for cleaning. We never buy any kind of insect killers. We just use our spray. You can knock out a wasp or bee nest in seconds. And it’s the best for cleaning greasy areas.

I was going to end my column on that note, but being that some schools are still having graduation exercises, I thought I would add this poem from another clipping.

Test Prayer

Now I lay me down to study, I pray the Lord I won’t go nutty.

If I should fail to learn this junk,

I pray the Lord I will not flunk.

But if I do, don’t shed a tear,

Just put a rose behind my ear.

Tell my teacher I did my best.

Then pile my books upon my chest.

If I should die before I wake,

That’s one less test I’ll have to take.

Suffering Student

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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