A life with no breaks…

A life with no breaks…

Jeannette Francis Manha (Jan) was born in 1921 to a middle class family in a tiny rural farming community of Portuguese Catholic immigrants – the children and grandchildren of European indentured servants. She grew up in the Catholic community of the Santa Clara Jesuit mission area. Santa Clara was a young community of 20,000 people, only 50 years from being a totally rural and native-American agricultural community. El Camino Real was the only even remotely major road, a winding dirt track that snaked through orchards and farms owned by the Stanford family to San Francisco 40 miles away.

Jan grew up in a safe home in a young community, but when she was 11 years old, she watched her parents, and then the rest of her family lose everything in the Great Depression. There was a run on banks, and because there was no money to pay her parents back, they were given the deeds to foreclosed property in the area (Santa Clara and San Jose). Given what we now know about Silicon Valley real estate, this could seem like a good deal; but at the time, it was probably the ultimate insult. (“You can’t have your money, but here are the deeds to some dirt lots.”)
The experience of watching her parents go through this during her teenage years affected Jan greatly and even though she was a happy and gregarious youth, it was tempered by her conservatism, savings, and distrust of institutions for her whole life that followed.
Jan pursued higher education at Santa Clara University at the urge of her grandfather (a former indentured servant who valued education above all else). She even took classes at Stanford on exchange, which, randomly, led her to encounter another person who was important in her life when she was 18.
Robert (Bob) Ernest Carlson (also born in 1921) grew up in Oakland, then Menlo Park and Redwood City. He was an Eagle Scout, band member, and outgoing classmate. He was remembered as an incredibly social young man. You can imagine what happened when a feisty and slightly disenchanted dark-haired daughter of a Catholic family meets a bright blue eyed Swedish man, whose dirty blond hair is unkempt with a huge smile. She invited him to a sorority dance.
This all happened in 1939-1941 when they were both 19-20, but the world interrupted their unlikely courtship with a war (in addition to the members of Jan’s family who made it clear that a boy, even a Stanford boy, who was not a church member would be a betrayal of the entire family.) Being a Catholic girl on the Mission Trail in the 1940s was not a joke or an option.
They saw Pearl Harbor in 1941, which meant even more to Jan since her Grandparents were indentured servants in the fields of Hawaii for 5 years. Bob Carlson graduated from Stanford in 1942 and then enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman. He shipped out to the Philippines, but never mentioned in his letters what was really going on. He was a helmsman on two ships that ended up at Guadalcanal and Leyte Gulf. He earned two Presidential Unit Commendations, and returned to his girlfriend to marry her (against the wishes of her family) in 1945 when they were 24.
He got a job as an accountant/auditor in San Francisco, and began climbing the ladder. Jan was happy and did not dwell on defying her whole family. They found a small house in Santa Clara (Bob’s commute was at least a 2 hr round trip each day) and enjoyed the life of a young married couple with her as a banker and he as an auditor. He also became involved in local politics.
The got pregnant in 1947 and had a boy named William in 1948. Bob was an officer of the University Club and joined the Santa Clara School Board in anticipation of his future children, but William died of influenza when he was less than a year old. They struggled with the loss of their first baby, but soon recovered enough to have another, Claudia, in 1949 and Linda followed, in 1951.
Bob loved his daughters, but also put pressure on them that, in retrospect, appears to have been displaced from his lost son to get educated and break barriers. They had brunch every Sunday at La Rinconada Country Club in Los Gatos. Bob was passed over for Partner at Peat Marwick, along with a friend named John (a Tax Manager), and they decided to go out on their own and go into business in Santa Clara. Their initial client list was driven by Bob’s charisma and Jan’s deep family relationships in the local Catholic community. They were very important people in Santa Clara in the 1950s and 60s.
1967 – in February, during tax season, Bob Carlson had a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead before he made it to the hospital. He had smoked and worked hard his entire life, but it was still a surprise. His first daughter was a freshman at Occidental College in LA, and his second was a junior in high school. Jan would, at the age of 90, describe this as the most important event of her life.
This was the third time that she had allowed herself to feel joy and comfort and then watch it be ripped away (including Great Depression, William’s death). She was a professional woman and could support her family, but she was away from her oldest daughter, and they all dealt with their grief without communicating. Claudia held incredible guilt for being away when Bob died; Linda and Jan grew very close together in those few years before she went to college.
Jan bought a plot in the non-sectarian city cemetery, very decidedly away from every member of her family. It was clear that she cemented her decision to marry Bob, even in his death.
Claudia drove herself harder in her father’s absence – becoming a flight instructor and one of the first female air traffic controllers in San Francisco. This led to a very ‘exciting’ decade in a fun profession, flying the world in jump seats. Linda chose a different path, and met her husband while getting a Masters from Thunderbird. Claudia married an older Engineer from HP and they grew into a love of Porsche cars and that community. Jan found a handful of male companions, but never married any of them – her husband had passed away, but he was not gone.
Linda was diagnosed with kidney failure in the late 70s, at the same time Claudia had two young children, and the tension led to a split in the family over support, and transplants, and other medical issues. Jan chose to be near her sick daughter (Linda) and stuck with that decision, even though that made her a virtual stranger to Claudia and her children (who chose to live in Oregon and then Arizona), but Jan did not want to be gone when a child died.
Linda took 20 years of pain and discomfort to die, and during that time Claudia and her husband made a different life, but it was clear Claudia was trying to give her children the same value of education as Bob did. Linda passed without any children in 2002. Jan at this point was happy with one of her companions, but Claudia’s children were already grown and Claudia struggled with the same anxiety as her father.
Claudia died in 2011, and then Jan’s friend and companion in 2013. She was 91 and had then seen everything taken from her periodically throughout her life. She saved and stashed and remained distrustful of institutions her whole life. She was always willing to invest in education, but she never made her support public, and remained the ‘silent partner’ for several school bills.
She led the life of someone who lost and gained, who inherited her Father’s depression properties, sold her husband’s business and tried to raise her daughters after losing an extraordinary father. She could not catch a break – her husband might have been a very important man, had he not died at 46. Her entire life was one ‘in response’ to events; she may never have felt like she was truly in control.
She died peacefully in her bed, with 2 grandchildren (Claudia’s children) and the pictures of her 3 great-grandchildren surrounding her, at the age of 94. She chose to be buried away from her family, with her husband in the city cemetery (Mission City Memorial Park); defiant in her final act. She was a strong and indepedent woman and gave the value of that spirit to her posterity.

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