As it happens, I don't think the insurance companies were counting on Dad stepping up to the plate. Because just eight months and $60,000 later, they met our demands, or at least enough of them that we could begin planning to excavate half our block.

Not long ago my wife asked me a question that she'd never posed in quite the same way before: "Why did you keep going?" The answer seemed so obvious that at first I didn't know what to say. "Well, you know, I was fighting for my life in there." She looked at me quizzically, and that's when I realized that as awful as the ordeal had been for her, it had been worse for me in one crucial respect: At least she had piped up with her reservations during the inspection. I, on the other hand, the man of the house who was supposed to protect us in such matters and provide for our future, had allowed my dreams for us to blind me into taking the advice of a home-heating-oil salesman, a hopelessly overbooked closing attorney with a shabby office above a pizza parlor, and a small-town real estate agent caught up in the biggest housing boom in U.S. history. Certainly lots of home buyers make mistakes, and the usual advice is not to beat yourself up too much about them. But somehow I didn't see me letting myself out of the ring anytime soon.

As I write this the backhoes and dump trucks are closing in on the last few of the 1,050 tons of contaminated dirt they will remove from my property. More loads of clean dirt and crushed stone arrive daily. Then next week the contractors show up to start laying the footings for my new basement. In the plans it's a beautiful basement—six 22-inch-high windows, foundation constructed of the latest steel-reinforced Styrofoam-insulated concrete forms, Energy Star natural gas furnace. When they're done with it, I'm even planning to have them keep going and frame out a little cathedral-ceilinged addition above the den, right where the cherry blossoms used to hang. Sadly, we had to lose the tree. But I think we managed to save the dream.
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