A story of St. Nick has moved people to tears across the country.
It unfolded in East Tennessee when Santa granted a dying boy his final Christmas wish.
The first re-telling of that tale came in a Sunday Knoxville News Sentinel column by Sam Venable. The veteran newspaper columnist has written tons of Christmas stories about St. Nick.
"I've talked to a lot of Santa Clauses some good and some not so good. And gotten some hilarious columns, but I've never had anything like this,” Venable said Monday.
Within hours of Sam’s Sunday column, Eric Schmitt-Matzen “Santa” saw 3,000 new Facebook friend requests.
This story goes several weeks back, when Schmitt-Matzen got a telephone call from a nurse asking him to visit a very sick boy who wanted to see Santa.
St. Nick made it to the bedside of that five-year-old just in time, a boy who told Santa he was dying.
“I says, 'When you get up to those pearly gates, you just tell them you're Santa's Number One Elf.' He's like, 'I am?' I said, 'You sure are. I'm sure they'll let you right in.' He goes, 'they will?' I said, 'I know it.' And he just came up and he gave me a big hug. He had a hold of me and he just kind of looked up at me and he says, 'Santa, can you help me?' And that's when he passed,” described Schmitt-Matzen.
A difficult story for ‘Santa’ to share, and a difficult one for Venable to write.
“As far as toughness to write, it was right up there at the top,” said Venable.
The story spoke to readers across the country, and gifts of thanks filled Venable’s inbox.
“Certainly a story like this at Christmas will hit, but I had no idea, goodness gracious!” said Venable.
But the man behind the pen credits Father Christmas and his generous soul.
“He [Eric] said I want to thank you and I said ‘I'm just the guy who wrote it,' I said 'you're the guy who did it,'” said Venable.
It reminded him that sometimes the hardest stories to tell are the ones people need to hear.
“It’s incredible, crosses all ages, there is something magical about Santa,” said Venable, “Only Santa Claus could have handled that situation the way he did.”