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Flat tires pumped up spirits for Christmas

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Les Whitmore

Les Whitmore

It was Dec. 24, 1977, and Christmas was nowhere to be found in our home. There was no tree, no decorations, and most of all, no presents.

Dad had been out of work and times were tough. Still, my parents had managed to save some money and planned to take the family into town to buy Christmas dinner and a few presents.

I was 15 and felt cheated by the circumstances. It left me feeling completely devoid of Christmas cheer or goodwill toward my family or even those whom I considered to be normal human beings.

Even so, I was looking forward to the trip. I wanted to visit the stores and see the lights and everything else I had been missing. I figured the trip would either cheer me up or confirm my right to self-pity.

I donned my winter coat, wrapped a scarf around my face and pulled a wool cap down low over my eyes.

"You look like you'll be warm," my mom said cheerily.

"I don't want anyone to recognize me," I huffed.

Our only running vehicle was a 1956 Chevy flatbed truck that had been spray-painted two different shades of blue — and Lori, my older sister, would be riding in the cab with my parents. That left me to ride in back with my younger siblings, Kit and Troy, and I was horrified that someone from school might see me clinging to the hardwood truck bed like a rancher's dog.

Safe within the shell of my heavily padded disguise, I climbed on the back of the truck, flipped up my coat collar and watched my dad roll an old tire toward us. He heaved it onto the back of the truck. "Spare tire," he announced, giving the ragged, tread-bare thing a pat.

"Do you have any proof of that?" I asked.

We pulled out of the driveway, and I hunkered down between my siblings, in part to keep warm but mostly to stay hidden during the 60-mile trip to Las Vegas.

I closed my humbug eyes and imagined myself taking out five or six sugar-plum fairies with tiny arrows, but I was soon brought back to reality with a loud "plop!" It was a sound I knew all too well — flat tire.

"Of course," I mumbled.

Without any prompting, I jumped down and changed the tire. Over the course of the year, I had become proficient at that chore and was able to get us out of the pit-stop in record time.

We made it to Las Vegas about an hour later, and our stay at the department store was otherwise uneventful. Dad shopped for food, and Mom bought presents. I wandered through the store, envious of everything I couldn't have, while store security followed close behind me, suspicious of the kid disguised as the Michelin Man.

Before long, we were on our way home. I settled in and passed time by rewriting the words to "A Night Before Christmas." In my version, Santa fell through the roof and ended up in traction. I was trying to think of a word that rhymed with quadriplegic when the unthinkable happened — a second flat — in the space of four hours.

As Dad slowed the truck, the sickening reality sank in — we didn't have another spare. It was Christmas Eve, and we were stuck 30 miles from home with a flat tire.

After a brief family meeting, we decided to do the only thing we could — crawl home on the flat tire. I rolled face down, prepared to sleep away my misery, but Kit and Troy had decided to sing carols in rhythm with the flat tire — "Come they told me pa-wop-wop-wop-wop." The rest of the family joined in, seemingly unaware that the following day was about to be the worst Christmas ever.

For a time, I wondered how I had inherited the family from Whoville. But after a few miles, the singing and laughing began to affect me, too. Almost magically, the old truck had become our sleigh ride and the stars had turned into tree ornaments, hung low in the frosty sky.

The Christmas spirit was back, and it wasn't in presents or decorations. It was in family — my family.

It took another five delightful hours to sing our way home that night. After which, we stayed up well past midnight decorating the tree, wrapping presents and enjoying each other's company.

I didn't know it then, but that would be my family's last Christmas together. Lori left for college the next fall, and Mom passed away from cancer a few years later.

Today, I am so thankful for the memory of that wonderful/miserable Christmas Eve.

About the author

Les Whitmore was born in Moab but grew up in Nevada. He graduated from Brigham Young University in civil engineering. He has been married to Barbara for 24 years. They have seven children and a grandchild. Les enjoys woodworking, writing and restoring old vehicles.