A few years ago, when my daughter was something like 7 years old, my wife and I decided to go to a winery on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The Hill Country just west of Austin, Texas, where we live, has a number of wineries, and many of them you can visit during the day on Sunday, to have a glass or three in idyllic surroundings, and then purchase a bottle or three to take home. Our daughter was not so big on wine, obviously, but being able to roam around the outdoors, with a view of vinyards and central Texas hillsides, in weather that was sunny and cool (but not cold), was entertaining enough that she was not fussy or bored. We had, however, told her that in the evening, on the way back to Austin, we would stop in the small town of Johnson City and show her the Christmas lights (Johnson City is small, but it goes all out on Christmas lights).

Presently it got dark, and it was time to go. The adults had enjoyed themselves (though perhaps my wife more than I, since I had to exercise much greater restraint in sampling because I was driving), and the child had been good-tempered. I did feel a twinge of conscience that we had spent the entire afternoon on the adults' entertainment, but was looking forward to showing her the Christmas lights. So, imagine our dismay when, about a mile away from the last winery, we had a flat tire.

Now normally this would be only a small inconvenience; you just put on the "donut" spare tire and limp back into town. Unfortunately, for reasons I won't bother going into, the car we were in had no spare tire any more, and so we were stuck. Having been surrounded by people just an hour before, we now looked around and saw only dark, lonely road. The temperature, which had been almost warm during the day, had plummeted along with the sun, and we found ourselves with the uncomfortable prospect of walking several cold, windy miles into the nearest small town, and then trying to find help on a Sunday night (on a holiday weekend, no less), after dark.

So it would have been, no doubt, if it had happened in a pre-cellphone era. Fortunately for us, my wife did have a cell phone, we did have cell-phone coverage even in this relatively remote area, and she was able to quickly join AAA and ask them to dispatch assistance. We sat then in the car, in the dark, and waited for help to arrive. I sighed and explained to my daughter that it did not look like we were going to be able to see the Christmas lights on Johnson City after all. But, I said, we will do something else Christmasy, soon. She was a little disappointed, but did not fuss much, which shows that she was entirely more mature and emotionally well-tempered than most children. I would like to take credit, but honestly I am just fortunate. I told myself silently to make sure to remember to live up to my promises, and not take such an understanding child for granted.

Presently, the tow truck arrived. We got out to meet him, and were greated with a friendly face and a hearty chortle. The driver of the tow truck was a silver-haired fellow, of the sort that in Austin are sometimes called "armadilloes". This is in reference to a fabled music club of the the past, named the Armadillo World Headquarters. It was perhaps the epicenter of the good-natured "weird" which Austin made a point of pride, as in the motto "Keep Austin Weird". Many offbeat rock and country bands played there in the 70's, and it was for a time the center of the Austin music scene, before being replaced in 1980 with a high-rise office building. Nowadays, if someone is an "armadillo", it means they are an aging hippie, of the sort who might have gone to the Armadillo. Our tow truck driver looked and talked the part.

He was also, you know, kind of portly. He had a bushy white beard. He had a loud, hearty guffaw, every few sentences. His nose was a bit reddish.

While he prepared our car for departure, I could not resist the urge to poke Juliet in the ribs and make a face which successfully communicated the idea that she was getting a special Christmas sight. Though very little, she caught my drift, and smiled as she looked at me in that charming and heart-warming manner in which young children indulge their dad's goofy jokes. But I'm telling you, if you had heard this guy's "ho ho ho" laugh, you would back me up on this. I mean, you can't make a living driving a sleigh one night a year, especially if you need to pay for a lot of elf labor and charge nothing for your services except the occasional in-kind payment of milk and cookies.

We piled into the cab of the tow truck, and passed though Johnson City on the way back to Austin. Although we didn't see as much of the lights as we might otherwise have, we did have a tour guide who pointed out some of the sights to us, and then on the rest of the drive told us about his younger days in the music clubs of Austin.

So, if your children are curious as to what the fellow in the red suit known for distributing presents does the other 364 days of the year, you now know what to tell them.

By the way, it was years later before we finally made it to Johnson City the the Christmas lights. It's nice, and I recommend it if you are in the area. If you do, I hope your car does not break down. But if it does, hope that you are on the "nice" list, and perhaps you will get a jolly old tow truck driver to take you back home.