You probably never met Walt Queen. If you did meet him, you would have remembered. You never forget meeting the real Saint Nicholas.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our story begins in Louisville, Kentucky, 1989. In a courtroom. The man sitting in the front row near the plaintiff’s table is Walt. He’s the one with the bushy gray beard and rosy face. You can tell he’s been crying.
His two daughters, ages 18 and 20, were heading home from work one night. They entered Spaghetti Junction, where I-64, I-65, and I-71 intersect on the northeastern part of town when a semi-trailer smashed into a barrier and lost its cargo. Queen’s daughters took a direct hit. The young women were killed instantly.
The courtroom fell silent as the judge was about to pass sentence. The truck driver sat with head lowered. His life was over. The verdict would be reckless homicide; up to 20 years in prison.
But then something happened.
There was a stir in the courtroom. It was Walt. He stood. He addressed
the court. He asked the judge to overturn the sentence. Walt begged the judge to let the man who killed his girls go free.
“Today,” Walt said to the truck driver, “my wife and I release you. We are not angry at you. We do not hate you. We forgive you.”
And if there was a dry eye left in Jefferson County, Kentucky, it was made of brass.
The judge granted Walt’s request. That same year, Walt’s wife decorated their house for Christmas. Christmas was surreal, visceral, an almost unreal experience. So the family kept Christmas going. Almost like a perpetual memorial.
“We left decorations up for ten years,” Walt’s wife remembers, “and the lights didn’t go out, not one time.”
That’s sort of when it all happened. One December a friend asked Walt to play Santa and deliver a puppy to his daughter. Sure,…