It was the summer of 2017, and my then 12-year-old grandson from Clarksville, Alex Gomez-Leon, was coming to visit “Pop” for a week. He was an Army kid, the son of my oldest daughter, Laurel, and her husband, Master Sgt. Ruben Gomez-Leon of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell.
They had not been in Clarksville for long, having been transferred after three years at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. Young Alex was making the adjustment from leaving his buddies in Fairbanks, leaving the winter sports he learned to love and enjoy and a school he liked. His school had moose alarms go off during recess. Moose walked down the street in front of their house. He loved it there.
This moving around isn’t so easy on the group of kids called “military brats.” You parents, grandparents or former military kids out there know of what I speak. It’s not an easy life.
Back to last summer. During a visit with our military family in Clarksville we talked about the idea of Alex spending a week with us in Knoxville in the summer of 2017. Pop made his first visit to Alex’s room to check things out and have him show me his stuff and there, plastered everywhere, were posters of Kane of wrestling fame. Turns out that Kane has been Alex’s wrestling hero for a few years now.
Alex didn’t know it, but his Mom did, that Kane in real life is Glenn Jacobs and that he was running for the office of Knox County mayor here in Knoxville. She asked me if I knew Kane and I said I had met him once when he was the speaker at the Rotary Club of Farragut, long before he announced his political ambitions. But he seemed nice and very different from the stereotype we have of professional wrestlers. He’s very articulate. Friendly. Smart. Businessman. College grad.
So, Alex decided to come spend a week with his “Pop” and “Mimi” and we began the planning process of what to do to entertain a 12-year-old. That process included trying to see if I could somehow have Alex hook up “Kane” while he was here. Jacobs, I knew, was in full campaign mode by this time, driving around town in that itty-bitty car. The first time I saw him get out of that car the thought crossed my mind: “This guy could body slam that car.”
How do I find Kane and see if he could maybe work into his campaigning a meeting with Alex? I emailed Bryan Hair, a friend who is Jacobs’ new chief of staff in the Knox County mayor’s office. He sent me a cell phone number. It was Glenn’s number. I called. He answered. I explained things to him about grandson Alex. I told him that we could drive to his office in Halls from West Knoxville when he has some free time. All I asked for was a few minutes of his time.
“Hey, I’ve got to be in West Knoxville for a 2 o’clock meeting on the Tuesday of that week so let’s just meet for lunch and I can surprise Alex,” Glenn said. “I’ll bring along some Kane pictures and posters for him as well.” That was all it took.
We agreed to meet at 11:30. But we got there 15 minutes early to find a table and sat near the rear of the coffee shop. At 11:30 on the dot Glenn walked in. Alex quickly spotted him. “That’s Kane there, Pop,” he said. He’s big, I said. “Yep, he’s the biggest of ’em all,” Alex said.
Glenn saw us and started heading our way. “He’s coming toward us!” Alex said. And then he was there. We shook hands and I said, “Alex, meet Kane.” This was a big deal. Major brownie points for Pop. I think Kane’s big hand wrapped around Alex’s hand about three times. This was a major deal, not just a big deal.
“This guy is a major, major fan of yours,” I said to Glenn.
Glenn sat down, and from that moment on, Glenn and Kane were focused on Alex and his love of Kane and of wrestling. I was a bystander at that point. I quickly learned that this grandson knows a great deal about pro wrestling and the wrestlers. He pays attention. Glenn noticed as well. “I’m impressed,” he told Alex. “You really know your stuff.”
On and on they talked, Alex asking a lot of questions, Glenn answering each one and adding more details than just answering what Alex asked. It was fun to be a bystander. This was not a meet-and-greet and hit-the-road session. Glenn, or Kane, sat with us for two hours, talking and telling wrestling stories with Alex. It was fascinating. As much as Alex enjoyed it and was mesmerized, Glenn enjoyed it as well. So did Pop.
And this was not about politics. My vote one way or the other would not turn an election count almost a year away. Heck, Alex and his parents don’t even live in Knox County. This was about a man, a celebrity, giving up his time to make a lifelong memory for a little boy of 12 who looked up to him in more ways than one.
This was a little boy meeting his hero in real life, and the hero loving it and enjoying it as much or more so than the little boy. I do know this – there’s a large heart inside of this large man we will soon be calling Mayor Glenn Jacobs.