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After decades of longing, generations can rejoice

At 11:33 a.m. yesterday, in a mist of rain and confetti, a boy and his father watched history being made. The boy was 45 years old, his dad 77. They wore identical Red Sox jackets and caps. Over the years, the old man had held his son's hand many a time as they traipsed through Fenway Park together to see their beloved team.

Yesterday, it was the boy's turn to throw a protective arm around his father in a crowd of Red Sox fanatics whose day had finally -- finally -- come. At the corner of Tremont and Bromfield, Bill Culhane at last put to rest the ghosts of games past, the years of Yankees-induced torture, the scores of unanswered prayers. The decades of wishing and hoping had dissolved, thanks to an unlikely band of characters named Pedro and Manny and Papi who made the old man smile and lift a fist into the air.

''Outstanding," was all he could manage as the duck boat passed by bearing Johnny Damon, his favorite current player. ''I didn't think I would live long enough to see this."

Added his wife, Dolly, 72: ''It's time to put Babe Ruth's picture away and don't worry about him anymore. He's history."

And so was the parade that drew millions of fans to Boston on an overcast, raw morning. Forget the raucous, beer-soaked college kids whose history with the Red Sox extends a month or two and who couldn't tell you who plays center field. It was the veteran fans, the generation who prayed for a World Series win before they died, who brought new meaning to the words, ''once in a lifetime."

It was as if they had, decades ago, made an internal vow: to love the Sox for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do they part. And at long last, their love had been requited.

These veteran fans are the folks who witnessed Ted Williams's very last hit. They were there when Johnny Pesky hesitated. They remember when bleacher seats and beer cost 50 cents. They know Babe Ruth's stats by heart. And they can recite the starting lineup for the 1946 World Series, both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox.

You could tell them by the white hair that peeked beneath Red Sox caps. You could tell them by the patience with which they waited for their team. (After all, they'd been waiting for decades). You could tell them by the quiet reverence they showed as the duck boats rumbled by, oblivious to the vulgar chants of much younger fans. It was fitting that they came with their children, to whom they had passed their love of the Red Sox, and with their grandchildren, the newest generation of fans.

''That was Johnny Pesky, Dad!" exclaimed Pete Culhane, who was 45 going on 5 for a few minutes yesterday. His father has had heart problems, and his son was very grateful for the day. Though the elder Culhanes retired to Colorado years ago, they flew in Wednesday night to watch Game 4 of the World Series with their son, who lives in Walpole. Yesterday, the three of them caught an early commuter train into town, arriving at 7:30 a.m. From South Station, it took them nearly two hours to make it to the Common; Bill Culhane walks slowly these days, stopping often to get his breath.

''I became a Red Sox fan because of my father," Pete said. ''That's why this is so special to me. I was hoping they'd do it before he died."

It was a refrain echoed all along the parade route.

Pat Salvador, 73, and her husband, Bussie, 72, took the 7:05 a.m. train from Kingston with their three daughters. The couple had seen Mickey Mantle's last at-bat in Fenway Park. They'd seen Ted Williams's last hit, too. And they were there the day in 1965 when Dave Morehead pitched a no-hitter.

Almost genetically, they passed along their Red Sox fever to their daughters. In 1975, they woke their children when Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run off the foul pole. The five of them had cried together in 1986 when the Sox lost to the Mets. They cried again Wednesday night, when their team finally delivered the goods.

''In 1986, we had the champagne all ready," said Pat Salvador. ''The kids wouldn't let me buy it this time. They were too superstitious." Instead, they celebrated the long-awaited win with Sprite.

From here on out, she declared, all Boston obituaries will include the mandatory line: ''Lived long enough to see the Red Sox win the World Series."

Those who did live to see it were thinking about loved ones who didn't. Bussie Salvador was remembering his parents, long dead, who first took him to Fenway Park in 1947 to see the Sox play the Detroit Tigers. ''Whenever the team was out of town, Jim Britt, the Red Sox sportscaster, would read the play-by-play that came over the teletype," he recalled. As the bells peeled from the nearby Park Street Church and the crowd chanted the familiar, ''Let's Go, Red Sox," Salvador released a long sigh that seemed pent up from generations past.

''I feel happy in my heart," he said. He even credited the Red Sox with his good health. ''My immune system is strong right now because I'm so happy," he said. ''I will not catch a cold today."

Bill Fitzgerald was 6 years old when he attended his first Red Sox game in August 1941. Yesterday, the 69-year-old brought his 27-year-old daughter to the parade. ''Frankly, I did not think I would live long enough to see this," said Fitzgerald, who lives in South Boston. ''And I did not think my daughter would, either."

Eileen Fitzgerald said she flew up from her home in Virginia to attend the parade with her father, who took her to Fenway Park when she was a girl. ''Every time I think about this, it makes me want to cry," she said. ''It's more for my dad than anything."

She had tucked her arm inside her father's as they walked back to the T. ''I'm weak in the knees at all of this," he explained.

Lloyd Hill, 76, was there with his son, Rich, 24, who is a pitcher in the Chicago Cubs' farm system. ''I've waited my whole life for this," said the elder Hill, who lives in Milton. ''I hoped to see it, but it was a long shot. The way they won it, it's absolutely miraculous.

''Thank you," he added, to no one in particular.

Barney Farley, 73, was also there with his son, Michael, 27. ''To be able to come here with my dad, it's huge," said the younger Farley. ''My dad coached Little League for years, and I've been going to Fenway with him since I was little." Friends had invited him to a party during Game 4, but he declined, instead watching it with his father.

As he waited for the duck boats, the elder Farley was still pinching himself. ''The Red Sox to me were always the bridesmaid. They didn't know how to become the bride. They finally figured it out."

At the corner of Tremont and Bromfield, where he'd been waiting for two hours, Bill Culhane watched as his heroes rolled by. He chewed his gum steadily and took it all in silently: the legends he'd loved as a young man and the current crew of characters who finally got it done. Johnny Damon and his flowing mane, Pedro and his huge grin, Curt Schilling and his thumbs up.

''It's the thrill of a lifetime," he said quietly.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.

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