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,…

The old man showed up to visit his granddaughter in the pediatric oncology wing of the hospital. It was late. He took the elevator and got a few weird looks from other passengers since he was carrying a bouquet, a boombox and wearing a snappy suit.

He walked into his granddaughter’s hospital room. The little girl’s face turned 101 shades of thrilled.

“Grandpa!” said the child in a weakened whisper.

The nurses cleared away the girl’s supper of Jello and creamed potatoes. Her mother dabbed her chin.

He placed the boombox onto a chair. He straightened his coat. He hit the play button. The room began to fill with the silken sounds of the Count Basie Orchestra. Then came the trombone-like voice of Old Blue Eyes. The song was “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“I promised my granddaughter I would teach her to dance,” the old man recalls. “Told her I’d make sure she knew the Foxtrot, the Samba, the Rumba, and the Waltz before she got married. But we never got around to it, so I wanted

to fix that.”

The nurses helped the frail child out of bed. The little girl’s head was bald. Her limbs and face were swollen from the effects of the medications she’d been taking. And she was tired. Cancer is not for sissies.

“Let me have your hands,” said Granddaddy.

Her little hands fit into his old palms nicely.

“Now stand on my feet,” he said.

The child placed her stocking feet atop the old man’s shoes. He stooped to kiss her shiny head. “That’s good,” he said.

He moved his feet back and forth and told her to follow his lead. They had to pause now and then because they were both prone to laughing fits.

The nurses videoed with their phones. A few orderlies watched from the doorway. The girl’s mother sat on the hospital bed, watching.

“This is how Grandpa…

I receive a lot of mail in the form of emails, letters, private messages, texts, Morse code, etc. It is impossible to answer all these messages, so I have compiled some of the most commonly asked questions, and will answer them here:

Q: This world is a mess, why don’t you ever address the central problems of our society? It seems irresponsible to not cultivate awareness. Why are you pretending that humanity is one great big happy family, and everything is hunky dory? This isn’t helping our country.

A: I think someone needs a nap.

Q: No, I’m serious. Don’t gloss over the question with your glib, sophomoric attempt at ill-timed humor.

A: You could use a beer, too.

Q: Hi. I just want to know: Is Sean Dietrich a real person, or just a secret team of a bunch of wannabe writers pretending to be one guy?

A: We aren’t wannabes. We’re never-weres. Big difference.

Q: Ginger or Mary Ann?

A: Lucille Ball.

Q: Come on. That’s not fair. Please comment on this age-old debate.

A: It’s not

a debate. Not really. Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” former Miss Nevada 1960, received more fan mail than Tina Louise (Ginger) and nearly every other actor at CBS Studios combined.

Even after Wells’ heyday she still received some 5,000 fan letters per week from hormone crazed post-pubescent boys, most of whom were offering to bear her children. Not that I would know.

In a scientific poll conducted by researchers at CBS, the results found that post-boomer males voted Mary Ann over Ginger, 3-1.

Q: You write a lot about dogs, but why don’t you ever write about cats? Don’t you like cats?

A: Funny you should mention that. As I type this, I am currently on my porch surrounded by six neighborhood cats. Two are sleeping near my feet. One cat is beside me, communicating telepathically with…

He was tall, lean, and young. When he approached me, he hugged me. Then, his mother hugged us both. A three-person club sandwich.

He must’ve been a foot taller than I was. His voice squeaked with adolescence. His skin was freckled. He had a long neck. He recognized me.

“I liked your books, sir,” he said, through a nervous stutter.

Sir? No way. Such titles are reserved for men who wear penny loafers when fishing.

“I read them all when I was in the hospital,” the boy went on. “I kinda got to know you, and it was like we were friends.”

His mother tells me his story. It’s a long one, and it’s not mine to repeat. But he has the determination of a saint, and he still has a long road ahead of him. He suffers more than other kids his age. And as things stand right now, he might not survive his struggle.

Before he walked away, he told me something. Something that stuck with me.

“You know what I do when I’m

down?” he said. “I list ten things I love every day. I write’em on paper. My dad told me to do that.”

He tapped his finger against his head. “Gotta keep on thinking ‘bout things I love.”

I was mute. I couldn’t seem to find words. I noticed a large moon-shaped scar beneath his hairline. I tried to say something, anything, but I just smiled.

He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walked with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

On the off-chance that he is reading this, I’ve come up with a few things I love:

1. I love Mexican food. In fact, I have had a lifelong love affair with it. A Mexican man I used to work with with used to make a…

Here is the letter I got:

“I’m struggling. My name is Joe, and I'm an addict. I've been to drug rehabilitation twice. I actually spent my 21st birthday there. Five years later, I'm still using drugs and I'm lying to my parents about where my money is going. I'm hurting my health, I know. It’s hard because I really want to be sober, but it’s just hard to stop. I guess I’m writing to you because your letters really are therapeutic to me.”

Dear Joe,

Today I sat down to write you a response even though, I freely admit, I know nothing about the nature of addiction. I typed one sentence when something happened. My wife came bursting into my office, shouting, “Otis has gone missing!”

Otis is one of our dogs. Otis is an alleged Labrador who might as well be our oldest child. He smells like a giant armpit and has chewed approximately 39 pairs of my reading glasses. But he is loyal, and he is mine. And we love him.

This dog, however, has

been known to dig beneath our fence and explore the greater Birmingham metro area. I don’t know why he escapes. He has a pretty cushy life here. We feed him Science Diet, which costs more per bag than a four-bedroom beachfront condo.

My wife and I tore into our backyard and found a big hole beneath the fence. My heart dropped.

“Otis!” we shouted.


He was gone.

Within minutes we were canvassing the neighborhood. I was barefoot, jogging on the sidewalks, hollering, “Otis! Here, boy!”

None of our neighbors had seen him.

My wife and I split up to cover more ground, cruising side streets in our respective vehicles. We were circling the neighborhood while horrific scenarios were dancing in our heads.

In a moment like this, you find yourself acting irrationally. You find yourself losing your own sanity.

“Dear Lord,” you…

Birmingham. A public park. It was sunny. I was walking my bloodhound, Thelma Lou, trying to get her to do her business. I wore a blue plastic poop-baggy over my hand. Ready for action.

The park was alive with people. People of all kinds. From all walks.

I passed a priest. The padre was elderly, with dandelion-fuzz hair. He walked on the paved track alongside a young man whose hair was in cornrows, whose skin was painted in tattoos. They were having a discussion about something evidently important.

At one point I think the boy was crying. Whereupon the priest put his arm around the young man and they hug-walked in silence.

I also passed a middle-aged man with freckles, sitting on a blanket with his beautiful Asian wife. They were having a fancy picnic, complete with champagne. My dog nosed around their plates and we were instantly introduced. We talked.

“Today is our 30th anniversary,” said the woman. “We met when we were in the Air Force, overseas, in Germany.”

I asked them

to say something in German.

“Ich liebe dich,” they said to each other. Then they kissed.

I asked what this phrase meant. The woman just smiled at me and said, “Look it up.”

I practiced this phrase several times, committing it to memory, using a faux German accent. But, much to their amusement, I sounded like a prodigious idiot.

Meanwhile, in the distance, I saw a busload of young Black girls filtering into the park. They were maybe 8 or 9 years old. There must have been a hundred of them.

They were running on the track, jogging in various directions, hollering, laughing, doing cartwheels. Some wore school uniforms. Many had beads in their hair.

Several girls were playing elaborate hand-clap games at breakneck tempos, shouting in loud rhymes.

“Double double this, this! Double double that, that…!”

A few of the girls were interested in my…

I was raised by women. After my father died, it was women who stepped in and taught me how to be a man. I am a card-carrying mama’s boy.

It was women who instructed me to be respectful, patient, diligent, sincere, attentive, spiritual and most importantly, how to put the toilet lid back down.

Women taught me to revere heaven, country, neighbor, and dog. They taught me to wash my hands before meals, to say my bedtime prayers, and I was taught to refer to my elders as ma’am, sir, or whenever I was I trouble, “your honor.”

And so it was that my youth was shaped by a gaggle of aunts, cousins, and matronly women who wore bath powder and polyester pants. I grew up being carried to and fro by females. It was a wonder I ever learned to walk.

When I was a baby, it was women who dressed me in ridiculously frilly outfits for Sunday service, such as yellow jumpsuits with white patent leather shoes. And

they dressed me like this until was in my early thirties.

It was women who cut my hair. My mother gave me haircuts on the front porch with a stainless steel mixing bowl placed over my head. She used a pair of equestrian hair clippers which predated the First World War, draped me in a bath towel and gave me a popular hairstyle common among Navy SEALs.

But I am grateful for women. For it was women who taught me to believe in God, and how to memorize Bible verses. Throughout the years, these maxims and proverbs have stuck with me. Such as the verse:

“And the Lord doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”

And it was my aunt Eulah, the fiery Pentecostal, who made me memorize uplifting verses to encourage me during dark…