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Most Memorable New Year's Eve Escapade-Life in Modesto, California in the 1970s

Updated on April 29, 2015
chateaudumer profile image

The Katague Family had resided in California's Central Valley famous for its winter's fog. This is also a hub about friendship and trust.

Toasting the New Year

Dave and Macrine Toasting Champagne
Dave and Macrine Toasting Champagne | Source

Toasting the New Year

This photo was taken on New Years eve just recently. The photo below is Macrine and Me with our coyboy and cowgirl outfits, Houston, Texas, 2009.

New Year's Eve Escapade in California Central Valley Fog with our New-Found Friends - Driving in Central Valley Tule Fog

Author and his wife, Macrine, 2010
Author and his wife, Macrine, 2010

New Year's Eve Celebration

The New Year's Eve of 1970 was one of the most memorable events in my life in the United States. It was a peculiarly distinct night I endangered us, me and my wife Macrine, by driving in the unknown, for a chance to celebrate a late dinner out. It was also the night we got to meet and know friendly strangers, who invited us to celebrate the New Year's Eve in their lovely home.

Before arriving in California, we were living a blessed life with four young children in Kansas City, Missouri. I loved and enjoyed working as a chemist for Chemagro Corporation. I could have stayed and worked longer for the company, but fate had other plans for my career. We had several friends, and we were established and comfortable in the ways and life in the Midwest. Our children were attending elementary school, while my wife was a full time housewife.

On September of 1969, I found a new job with Shell Development Company in central California. It was an attractive job offer which was difficult to turn down. They presented a substantially bigger salary suitable for my growing family. It was also a chance to move to the warmer California climate, and leave behind the harsh Midwest winters. After consulting with my wife and discussing the merits of the possible move, I immediately accepted the offer without any doubt and reluctance. Leaving a place we have learned to love and appreciate was sad, but we had to move on.

Our family relocated to Modesto, California, and we were excited about living in a new community, meeting new friends and getting to know new neighbors. The move was easy and relaxed. The relocation expenses, including the packing and unpacking by the movers, were paid for by my new employer. We simply moved in and got accustomed to our new surroundings.


Central Valley Tule Fog

Fog in the Orchards
Fog in the Orchards

Modesto and the Central Valley Tule Fog

The city of Modesto is located right in the heart of the central valley of California. It is the land of fruits and nuts, and also the agricultural region of the state. I love the outdoors, and living in Modesto gave us a chance to visit the nearby magnificent Sierra Nevada, and its various easily accessible natural attractions and parks.

The central valley is also known for its sinister side, its tule fog during winter, which covers much of the central valley in poor visibility mist. The locals called it the "soup". The tule fog (/ˈtuːliː/) is a thick ground fog that forms and settles in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys of California's great central valley. This spectacle is named after the tule grass wetlands or tulares, as they are called, found in the central valley. Vehicular accidents caused by the thick and zero visibility tule fog, are the leading cause of weather-related casualties in central California.

As a newcomer to central California, I had no idea about the soup and the gravity of danger it poses for motorists. Moreover, I was unaware how frightening an experience it could be to drive through the fog. I would never recommend anyone to go through such a worrisome ordeal.

During the last four months of 1969, we were occupied settling down and adjusting to our new home and community. We found a new school for our children, church, grocery, shops and parks. My life was thinly spread between my new job and home. We had no time to join any local group, and had no friends except for our neighbor. The demands of my job and family life made me a very busy man, and I had no time to make new friends except with my co-workers.

Before the New Year's Eve, my wife and I wanted to find social interaction in our community, but we had no friends or family to visit nearby. We decided to go out for a late dinner in one of Stockton's nicer restaurants, to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. It is about twenty miles north of Modesto. We left the children at home, while the teenage daughter of our neighbor watched over them.

We were excited to get out of the house and party for this New Year's Eve, like a young couple eager to go out on a date and explore the night life in town. As we left the house on that chilly and foggy night, we were about to embark on an adventure we never imagined. I remember the smile on my wife's face to get out of the house and enjoy the night together. We discussed about the food and wine to order, and probably having dancing and celebration for the arrival of the New Year.

We reached the restaurant at about 9:30 pm, and the place was filled to capacity. We didn't realize that many couples had the same wonderful idea for the last night of the year. We had to wait in the bar before they could offer us a table. At the bar was another couple who was also waiting to be seated. They were a little bit older than us. The lady was of Asian ancestry and the man was Caucasian.

The couple appeared friendly, so me being the extroverted, outgoing and friendly individual, I started the introductions. I made small talk which initiated an animated conversation to pass away the time. We felt relaxed talking with the couple, and when we were called to be seated, we decided to get a table for the four of us together, instead of two separate ones.

Our dinner of steak and lobster was enjoyable. The conversation flowed freely, loosened by two bottles of wine. Based on our rapport and discussion, it appeared like the four of us were long time friends. We learned that the lady had Filipino ancestry. The couple is also Catholic, and has resided in Stockton for the last ten years. They had no children and had plans of adopting a child from the Philippines.

Their house was in a property near the restaurant, and a short drive away. We finished dinner and dessert at about 11:30 pm. Our new found friends decided to invite us to their home for an after dinner drink, and to avoid driving home in the highway at midnight, the New Year's Eve. With our adventurous spirit, Macrine and I trusted these strangers, and accepted their invitation without any fear or hesitation.


Getting Out of the Restaurant and Driving in the Fog

When we got out of the restaurant, the fog was already thick with only a few feet of visibility. I was not alarmed since the couple's residence was nearby. The house was tastefully furnished and decorated with several Philippine antiques that the lady had inherited from her Filipino grandparents.

We had a bottle of champagne at midnight and celebrated the arrival of the New Year. I only took a sip since I was the designated driver. We stayed at their home chatting and getting to know each other better. We talked about our families, interests, places we've lived and visited, and about the central valley. We ended the party at 1:00 am, and decided to go home.

As we stepped out of the warmth and comfort of their house, the cold air and the soup welcomed us outside; we could see nothing in front of us. It started to sink in my mind, whether we should proceed and drive through this very thick fog or not. I remember thinking; maybe we should pass the time somewhere, and let the fog go away before driving home. On the other hand, we cannot delay the trip home to our children, and the babysitter also had to get home to her family.

I decided to start the car, drive slowly through the thick fog; my eyes open wide, a little bit nervous and anxious. We glanced at each other; my wife had the look of concern on her face. I remember her saying "this looks dangerous, and how will you see the road or the other cars on the highway". Seeing her worried look increased my growing apprehension of the peril of driving through zero visibility. The fog was so thick, my car's fog lights were useless, and we could only see a few feet away.

With arrogance, I was telling myself this was nothing to worry about. I've driven through blinding snowstorms, and snowy and icy roads in the Midwest. This would be easy; there is no rain or snow on the highway. I would manage this by driving slowly and totally focused on the road. Besides, at this time of the night there are few people and cars on the road.

On the contrary, my rational side was conflicting with my self-confidence. It was advising me to get out of the road and avoid any accident. It continued telling me that driving in this road condition is like a blind man walking through oncoming traffic.

Silence pervaded during the whole trip. No one dared to speak of negative thoughts. Both our minds were already consumed with thoughts of angst. I remember how distressing it was with all the worries racing through my mind. It made me imagine of graphic images of car wrecks, bloody and mutilated crash victims, and disturbingly, orphaned children left behind by foolish parents.

Driving the usual thirty minute ride home from Stockton took an eternity. Due to the slowness of my driving, seconds felt like minutes, and minutes felt like hours. I was hearing the clock ticking on my head slowly and forever. It was a never ending hour of nerve-racking and concerned driving.

It took me a full hour to finally reach the safety of our home. It was a huge relief to find our children at home asleep. I was thanking all the saints in heaven that we were home safe and sound despite the danger that we just went through. The babysitter was also pleased to see us back at 2:00 am.

Driving in the soup with zero visibility on New Year's Eve of 1970 is an experience I would like to avoid repeating in my life. The drive was terrifying; I vowed I will never again drive in a fog, maybe not even during an emergency situation.

Reflecting back to this experience, I cannot imagine that Macrine and I allowed ourselves to get to know and visit the home of complete strangers, who later on became our close friends. We continued our friendship with the couple until 1974, when we moved to the San Francisco bay area. I lost my job from Shell Development Company when it closed the agricultural research facility in Modesto. .

This was definitely one New Year Eve's escapade that we will always remember for as long as we live.

How Does Tule Fog Form?

Driving in a Thick Fog

Have you ever drove on a thick fog with almost zero visibility?

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Driving on the Central Valley Fog

Citizenship Party, 1972

Dave and Macrine Citizenship Party Cake
Dave and Macrine Citizenship Party Cake | Source

Our Life in Modesto, California

In 1969 my family moved from Kansas City, Missouri to Modesto California, when a head hunter found me a job as Research Chemist at Shell Development Company, Agricultural Research Division. I was not unhappy with my job at Chemagro Corporation. But the lure of warmer climate and a 20% automatic salary increase were enough incentives to uproot my family from our comfortable new home in Platte Woods , Missouri. My boss at Chemagro wanted to retain me by offering me a 10% raise. I told him I will get a 20% salary increase and he said he will not be able to match that and wished me good luck in my new position. All our moving expenses were paid by Shell Development Company.

Six months after we settled in Modesto, Macrine and I organized the MABUHAY CLUB, a Filipino-American organization in Stanislaus County involved in social, educational and civic activities. There were only twelve of us( 6 couples) and they elected us the first couple President. Today, the organization has more than 400 members.

The whole family were also involved with community fund raising activities for the needy. The kids were active in the community theater ( music and folk dancing) and Macrine and I were involved with country club activities, party bridge and tennis. I taught cathecism classes (CCD) to high school students in the evening.

In 1972, Macrine and I (and Dodie) became United States citizens. Our citizenship party was published in the May 17, 1972 issue of the Modesto Bee. Excerpts from the article is as follows:

Katagues Are Proud to be American Citizens by Laurelie Mullen .“ The party was as American as apple pie....everything was red, white and blue and the honorees were pleased as punch to tell the world they are a part of Uncle Sam's family. Instead of singing “For He is a Jolly Good Fellow” when the star-spangled cake was cut, everyone sang “ God Bless America” ...with feeling and a proud tear or two. The occasion was a citizenship party given by Dr and Mrs Dave Katague of Modesto, who are so delighted at finally becoming American citizens, after living in this country for more than 12 years, they just had to have a party to celebrate.

The Katagues and their oldest son Dodie, 13, all were born in the Philippines, but their other three children were born in the United States. “ It's such a joyous thing for us all to belong to one country”, Mrs Katague said to her 40 party guests, whom she had fed an authentic homed-cooked Filipino dinner consisting of six courses, not including the American cake, a gift from Nilda Valdez, herself a Filipino.

Katague is a research chemist for Shell Development Company near Salida. Their other children are Dinah, David III and D'Macrine.”


Moving from Modesto to Pinole, California with a Farewell Luau

My career with Shell Development ended in 1974, when the company decided to close the facility and moved to Houston, Texas. It was time for me to look for another job. During our five year stay in Modesto, we have purchased two homes. The last one was a country house at Skittone Road with a pool where Macrine had also a gift shop specializing in Philippines handicrafts and goods. On August 1974, we gave a farewell party – a Hawaiian Luau complete with lechon( roasted pig) to the neighbors and friends. The party was published on the August 2, 1974 issue of the Modesto Bee. An excerpt of the party is as follows:

FAMILY LEAVES WITH ALOHA LUAU, “Saying “Aloha” is never easy, but Dr. and Mrs David Katague, made it easier for themselves by giving a farewell luau for some 60 friends. The Katagues residents of Modesto for 5 years are moving to Pinole , where Mrs. Katague will soon open a gift shop, similar to the one she has just closed here and her husband will join the staff of Stauffer Chemicals. He has been with Shell Development Company in Salida since moving to Modesto.

The gardens of Katague home on Skittone Road were lighted with tiki torches, setting the scene for a typical Polynesian feast, which included a pit roasted pig and several Filipino entries. The Katague Children entertained with traditional dances. They are Dodie, 15, Dinah, 13, David III, 11 and D'Macrine 9. The article include 3 photographs, two of the lechon and Dave and Macrine in their Hawaiian outfits.”.

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    • chateaudumer profile image
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      David B Katague 2 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by and reading one of my hub! You are a very inspiring writer and again may I reiterate you are one of my favorite hubber. Have a Great Wednesday!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great story and memories. I've only been to Modesto once...my car broke down one August day and it was 104 degrees...dusty....a very miserable experience. :)