The Day a Grown Man Cried

By Mickey Dunaway | Reprinted with Permission by Currents Magazine | Cornelius, NC

Honestly, I am either bewildered by October or excited by it. I love the crisp breezes painting the Autumn leaves, and high school and college football are in mid-season. When I fished a lot, this was the perfect season. Jet skiers were no longer running up and down the lake, and the big fish were beginning to feed on the smaller fish as winter approached and were easier to entice to my lure. Coffee and conversations on the patio just seem sweeter.

However, I am not a fan of Halloween or any of the nonsense that goes with it. As a principal, Halloween gave me more than any other holiday. It comes at the height of football season, and the cheerleaders inevitably like to have “spirit week” during Halloween week. 

One year the cheerleaders strong-armed me with their All-American cuteness and good grades to have a “Halloween Day” during the middle of “Spirit Week.” I put them off for a couple of days, and as I thought about it, Halloween that year was on a Sunday night, and I figured we could endure one day early in the “Spirit Week” with kids with painted faces and funny costumes. Oh, how wrong I was! 

The one thing I did not consider—I think it was because cheerleaders are not only All-American-cute and are All-American well-behaved—is that the “Cheerleader-effect” could not be applied to the other 1300 students in our school. 

On the second day of Spirit Week, the opening bell had barely stopped ringing when I saw my first temporary delinquent. He was dressed as a KISS band member, took what looked like a bottle of bourbon from under his costume, and took a healthy slug to start the day.

I could identify the bourbon bottle ( I only use spirits medicinally and in my famous pecan pies), but I could not identify the “perp” because he or she looked like half the other students dressed in KISS makeup that year. Trying to run him down was fruitless. I had learned early on that I could not catch a 15-year-old with a head start. So, employing a StarTrek Klingon proverb—”Revenge is a dish best served cold—” I was pretty sure someone would rat him out before the day was done. 

Sure enough, before the day ended, he had passed it to one too many fellow freshmen, and his 4th Period teacher caught him in the act and brought him to me. 

After I brought him to my office,  I sniffed the cork on the bottle of the Single Barrel 23-Year-Old Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and had the perp breathe in my face. So, after his breathalyzer test, I told him that he had taken his last breath at school for the next ten days—including the football game on Friday night and the dance to follow. He seemed not bothered at all—not an unusual reaction from a high school freshman. However, less than an hour later, when his father arrived to pick him up, I saw a very different response, not from the son but from the father. There wasn’t much of that prized bourbon left in the bottle, and when I told that father he would have to go down to the Police lab and plead with them about getting back what was left of his bottle of prized Bourbon, I saw one of the saddest reactions by a parent in my career.

I saw tears come to that father’s eyes that day, and I don’t think it was because his son would be suspended for ten days.

 “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

– Mark Twain


  1. Good story. Thanks for sharing. From a KY school nd member: “Eat crow when it’s warm, it goes down easier”.

    Not many people in the south can afford PVW bourbon. I can only imagine the father-son encounter.


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