Quite Possibly The Saddest Christmas Story You Have Ever Read
"I've gotten a big response to this," Venable told CNN. "People have told me that they were crying when they read it, and I tell them that I was crying when I wrote it."
It all started several weeks ago when Eric Schmitt-Matzen, the Santa in Venable's column, got a call after work.
"It was a nurse I know at the hospital," Schmitt-Matzen told the News-Sentinel. "She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus."
Schmitt-Matzen, whose 300-pound frame and real white beard make him a popular Santa in the Knoxville area, got to the hospital in 15 minutes and requested that anyone leave the room if they were about to cry.
In his column, Venable relayed Schmitt-Matzen's brief interaction with the boy:
'"They say I'm gonna die,' he told me. "How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?"
"I said, 'Can you do me a big favor?'"
"He said, 'Sure!'"
"When you get there, you tell 'em you're Santa's Number One elf, and I know they'll let you in."
"He said, 'They will?'"
"I said, 'Sure!'"
"He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: 'Santa, can you help me?'"
"I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him."