Guilt's half-life is longer than plutonium's.
I know this because 50 years after I tricked my mother into letting me miss school to watch Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, I still feel a need to be punished.
The long-suppressed remorse resurfaced recently when film of that memorable game was discovered, and the MLB Network decided it would air the historic game. That telecast, by the way, with Mel Allen and Bob Prince behind the mikes, will be on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
While every baseball fan probably has seen footage of a gleeful Bill Mazeroski leaping around the bases after hitting the ultimate dramatic walk-off homer, no one had seen the game in its entirety since the day it was played, Thursday, Oct. 13, 1960.
Networks back then didn't keep duplicates of the events they televised. Film was expensive, and they reused it whenever possible. But Pirates owner Bing Crosby, in Europe at the time, had requested a copy be made. A half-century later, someone found the forgotten canisters in the late crooner's wine cellar.
As much as I'm looking forward to seeing Mazeroski's winning waltz, the bad-bounce grounder that struck Tony Kubek in the throat, and Hal Smith's nearly-as-dramatic home run, Wednesday night's replay won't be easy to watch.
I was an 11-year-old sixth grader at St. Pius X School in Broomall then. I was also, like every other kid I knew, a baseball fanatic. We played it whenever possible, studied and restudied newspaper box scores, collected, traded and tossed baseball cards. The game consumed our little lives.
Nothing was as all-consuming as the World Series. But because all the games were played during the day, following them at school was impossible.
Sometimes, a brave youngster would smuggle a transistor radio with an earphone into class. But, given the eyes and backhands of the Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns who taught us, that was risky.
Once in a while, if the sisters were feeling charitable, they'd let us listen to an inning or two. But not Sister Domenica.
With nearly 100 kids to control in a combined sixth and seventh grades class, she was all business. And that business left no time for baseball.
That year's World Series was compelling. The favored Yankees had clobbered the Pirates in three games. But the Pirates had eked out three wins. Now everything would be determined in a Game 7 at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field.
The Yankees' presence in the Series was an autumnal given, like the falling of the leaves or the debut of the new models from Detroit. In the 16 seasons from 1949 through 1964, the Bronx Bombers had missed it just twice - in 1954 and 1959.
Since most of us in Philadelphia and its environs were National League fans, we wanted nothing more each season than for someone to beat the hated Yankees. And now the Pirates had a chance.
I had to see it.
The only way that was going to happen, though, was if I could find a way to skip school. I wasn't bold enough to play hooky. And feigning an illness wasn't easy with my mother and her ubiquitous thermometer.
Unless . . .
In those days, the first things my mother did when we said we weren't feeling well was to stick a clammy thermometer in our mouths. The magic number was 100. If the red line reached that far, we went back to bed and stayed there with a vaporizer full of Vicks until it subsided.
I didn't have a fever. I did, however, have a solution.
My twin bed in the room I shared with my younger brother happened to sit atop a heating duct. Since my forever-chilled mother liked the house temperature to approximate sub-Saharan Africa's, it was constantly blowing out hot air, even in so typically benign a month as October.
That morning, I put my plan into action. When my mother awakened us, I told her my throat hurt. I was sucking on mercury and glass before you could say Elroy Face. With three kids, and a '50s husband, Mom was perpetually busy; she couldn't linger.
When she left the room, I removed the thermometer and dipped it down toward the air vent.
At first, I overdid it. My initial reading was a searing 105. Mom would have had me in an emergency room as soon as she picked herself off the floor. But with time and more careful shepherding, I got it down to a reasonable 101.
"That's funny," my mother said when examining it, "your forehead doesn't feel warm at all. Well, you'd better stay in bed." That meant just that. If we were too sick to go to school, we were too sick to go downstairs, where the big TV was. Fortunately, we had one of those clunky portables in my parents' room, though neither my mother nor I was strong enough to move it.
"Mom, can I stay in your bedroom?"
Now I was set.
I recall the guilt washing over me even then. The game was astonishing. All these years later, I can still see Kubek writhing on the infield dirt, still see a vainly hopeful Yogi Berra retreating toward the stadium wall as Mazeroski's ninth-inning homer just cleared.
I remember the autumn darkness as I ran to the window to see if anyone else was celebrating the Yankees' demise.
And then my father walked in. Here I was out of bed, rosy of cheek, and caught in the act. I knew he'd have been listening on the radio. And, as a lifelong A's fan who still pulled for the American League in the Series, he must have been disappointed.
How would he react? Would my butt suddenly be as red as the face of Ralph Terry, the Yankees' pitcher who'd surrendered Mazeroski's homer?
Strangely, he wasn't mad. In fact, from the look on his face, it seemed clear he knew exactly why I was in his bed, what I'd done, and why. At some level, though he never said it, he appeared to approve.
"Great game, wasn't it?" he said.
I feel great today. I'm going to watch the Pirates beat New York in my always-chilly family room. Maybe I'll turn on the fire and think of my parents. And hope they forgave me.