Looking back to messages from readers

By From page A9 | December 30, 2012

When a reader sends an interesting response to one of my columns, I often think, “I need to write a follow-up column” to share the reader’s ideas.

But then I forget. Or I haven’t got enough material for a whole second column. Or I simply move on.

There’s a fourth option.

Today I offer an end-of-the year wrap-up of responses I received to a variety of topics.

Giving up the landline

In October I wrote about the ever-growing number of people who are giving up their landlines. One reader pointed out something significant that changes when a household has only cell phones.

When you call a cell phone, the person who answers will be the person who owns the cell phone. You won’t have an “accidental” conversation with another person who picks up the phone, as you might in a home with a landline.

In most cases, it’s good to get the person you want.

But I feel a loss. Every time I call my son, who has only a cell phone, I reach him. His girlfriend, who has her own cell phone, never picks up. Recently, they moved in together.

I don’t feel comfortable calling her directly yet, but I would love to have an accidental conversation or two. Cell phones make that impossible.

My favorite cereal

One of my lighter topics was about the demise of my favorite — in fact, my only — cereal. I was addicted to Smart Start Oat Flavor, which my 3-year-old grandson thought was named “Grandma’s Cereal.” When it disappeared from California supermarkets, I flew it home from my daughter’s place in Wisconsin.

When it began disappearing from shelves there, I found it on Amazon and bought a case. When that ran out, I wrote my column and a sainted reader (whose husband pines for the vanished Product 19) told me it was being unloaded at the Dollar Store.

I bought 16 boxes.

I ate them well past their expiration date, until finally I was about to run out. Feeling panicky, I bought other brands and tasted them. Most were too sweet. One reader had sent me a photo of a cereal she liked and I bought it for no other reason than her good will, but I didn’t fall in love.

Last week I slowly and sadly ate my last bowl of Smart Start. The next day I tried a new cereal that I had bought in Placerville. Oh joy! Nature’s Path Heritage Crunch is the most delicious substitute I’ve found so far. I danced around the room.

Then I remembered something. It was heavily marked down at the store where I bought it.

Could it be headed for oblivion, too?

Job Hunt for Academic Women

The column about my daughter’s job search drew an exceptional number of responses. Many readers reacted with sadness to the idea that a young woman with children (or planning to have children) cannot present her whole true self on academic interviews. My daughter had been advised not to mention her family.

After that column, I was invited to a meeting of the faculty advisers for UC Davis’ Work Life Program (established 2003) which tries mighty hard to make sure our local academic women get a reasonable shot at combining children and success in their careers. They also support time off for fathers. UCD’s family-friendly policies are more generous than policies in the 10-campus system overall.

Engineering professor Michael R. Hill, a member of the committee, wrote, “My hope for (your daughter) is that she will land a plum position and lead a family-connected life in plain view of her colleagues, and one day tell her students to present on their merits, without hiding things so lovely as a devotion to children, to family, and to a full life.”

I didn’t manage to write a column about UCD’s Work Life Program, but I applaud their efforts.


I have written about Larry more frequently than anyone outside my family. Whenever I write about him, I get email thanking me for continuing his story. Larry is the former home health aide to my father who began life with many disadvantages, including an abusive father, started college after I met him and became, at age 40, a poet.

Recently, he works as a host and guide at the Apollo Theatre in New York. His emails, which formerly contained punctuation and grammar mistakes, are smooth and polished. He sounds happy.

One reader described my role in Larry’s life as being his “witness,” which is not the same as being a friend or even a supporter. I wish I had the wisdom to write a column about what it is to be a witness, but not yet.


I wrote about traveling to the Big Island for a family wedding and missing the free leis we received on our previous visit 25 years earlier. Here’s the message I got from my daughter after that column:

“Your column brought back the scent for me — and I didn’t encounter any leis when I went as an adult. These must be old scent memories from 25 years ago.”

Her recall of a smell from the distant past — she was 6 years old at the time — fills me with wonder.

I am so lucky to write this column and get the messages I do.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Marion Franck

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