Sunday, July 28, 2019

Remembering Dale

Dale and me on Orcas Island 2015


Two years ago today I got the call that my best friend Dale died. It was one of the hardest days of my life.

The timing was unbelievable. Dale and his fiancé Liz, along with two of Dale's boys, had just spent five days with us on vacation. We packed so much into those days--a wonderful day at my company picnic, playing on the beach at Birch Bay, hiking Mount Baker, sightseeing in Seattle, and taking the ferry to walk and play in Friday Harbor.

It was an amazing time together, filled with great talks and lots of love and laughter. On the last day of their time in Washington, Dale proposed to Liz in Seattle. We talked a couple times over the next week as they started making wedding plans.

I cried the night they left, and I cried tears of joy when he told me about the proposal.

I've always been a cryer--any sappy movie can get my tears flowing. I get tears of joy when my kids win a big game or bring home a great report card.

I've never cried harder than I did the day I learned Dale had died. I woke up, and as usual, looked at my phone to see if there were any pressing messages or emails. I saw a notification of a Facebook message from Liz, Dale's fiancé.

"Todd, it's Liz. Please call me." 

Messages at 2 AM are never good. I figured there had been an accident or something like that, and hoped that nobody was hurt too badly. I called Liz and she answered the phone. She sounded upset, like she'd been crying. My anxiety level quickly rose. 

She said, "Todd, Last night, Dale took Ryan to soccer practice. While he was there, he went for a run. He must have collapsed while he was running, and he died. Dale's dead, Todd."

I felt frozen; like I couldn't move or think or feel anything. Then when I did move, it felt funny, like it wasn't me; like I was outside my body. I stood up and began walking back and forth next to the bed.

"Oh Liz, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." I didn't know what else to say; I just kept repeating those words. I felt like my mind was pulling back, closing up, running from the truth and the weight of what Liz said.  

"I don't know what do, Liz. I think I'm in shock."

"Is Jamie there?" she asked. "Give the phone to Jamie."

Jamie was in the shower. I walked into the bathroom, opened the shower door, and just held my phone out to Jamie. I guess she took it, then I walked back into the bedroom. 

I dropped to my knees next to the bed. I felt like my heart was exploding. I buried my face in the comforter on the bed and began to wail--a combination of sobs and screams, over and over, into the bed. The boys were still sleeping; I didn't want to wake them.

Jamie came out of the bathroom and put her hand on my back. I just kept sobbing. My mind was frozen. I couldn't process what was going on. My body felt weak and I felt a pain, deep inside, like nothing I'd ever felt. 

I cried for a while, then got up and talked with Jamie for a minute. I texted my boss to tell him I wouldn't be at work. It was time to get the boys up, so I went to get them. They had just spent five days with Dale and Liz, Ryan and Benjamin. Dale was family to them, as he was to me.

I went into Brady's room and woke him up. He could see in my face and hear in my voice that something was wrong. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak I began crying again. I tried to breathe and speak slowly so I could get the words out.

"Dale, he was running, and he collapsed, and he died."

Brady's eyes got big; it took him a few seconds to process the information, then he began to cry, and reached out to hold onto me. I started crying again and just held him. Cash heard us and came into the room, so I told him. He started crying as well. We were all just letting it out.

Jamie had to go to work--she kept apologizing, but I knew she needed to be there and told her to go.

I fed the boys breakfast and told them they could stay home or go to day camp. They both chose to stay home. I sat with them and cried and held them for a bit. Then I got them watching TV and began to make some calls.

I called my mother. Mom had known Dale since we were kids; he was family. I didn't want to scare her, and knew I would start crying as soon as I spoke, so I started with "the kids are OK."

I slowly got out the words to tell her what happened to Dale. She was upset.

I left messages with Jill, one of Dale's closest friends from high school, and Lisa, whom Dale dated in high school. They both called me back soon after. I told each of them what had happened. Every time I began to speak, I stared crying again, and struggled to speak the words.

Both of them were shocked and upset, and concerned for me, and for Liz, and Dale's family.

Sue, Dale's ex-wife, called me and we talked and cried.

I called Dale's mom and talked with her. I don't remember much about those conversations; just listening to details as they came, talking about plans for a memorial service.

It was a horrible day, but underneath the grief, then and now, was a nugget of joy--realizing that  the person I admired and respected more than anyone was my best friend. That for my whole life I had a friend who was always there for me. Dale supported me and encouraged me and always answered the call when I needed something. He always gave--emotionally, spiritually, materially.

One time when I needed a car and asked him to borrow money, Dale gave me a car he had that he didn't drive much anymore. When I went to pick it up, I looked at the service records and saw that he had fixed the AC, done a full service and put new tires on it before giving it to me.

I had 43 great years of memories with him, and the icing on it all was a week of incredible joy and new memories we had just experienced.

The grief and loss are always there, but they are softened by a lifetime of wonderful memories, especially those we made in that last week together. I'm grateful I got to meet Liz, who Dale loved so much, and who brought him so much joy.

I went to San Antonio a year ago to be with Liz and Dale's family on his birthday (and the anniversary of his death). It was wonderful to spent that time with them. I didn't make it down there this year, but hope to next year.

I cry less often these days. I guess I am healing, but I still miss him and think about him every day. every single day. Sometimes I talk to him, usually on my drive to or from work; which is when we had most of our phone conversations over his last few years.

And I look forward to seeing him again one day, and giving him one of the bear hugs we always shared when we said hello.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Baseball 2019--A Championship Season

Another Little League Baseball season has come to an end, and it was one of the most enjoyable seasons I've had. I assisted my friend Jim Walker in coaching the Cardinals in the Burlington-Edison Little League Majors division, along with Brad Stallings and Sean Lockwood.

We had a small but strong team of nine players--three 12-year-olds, five 11's and one 10-year-old. We went 13-1 in the regular season, our only loss coming on a forfeit when one of our players was ejected for accidentally throwing his bat. We were up 10-2 at the time.

In our post-season tournament--the Andrade Tournament in Oak Harbor, we won 9-1, 13-0 and 20-5 before winning a thriller in the championship game 5-4. Cash knocked in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

When the season was done, we moved on to All-Stars. Five of our players made the team--Cash, Tyler, Hamza, Chloe and Landon. We breezed through the district tournament, 20-1, 14-0, 4-0 and 10-0. Two of the games were combined no-hitters. Cash was dialed in, going 10-for-15 in the tournament, including a 3-run double for the game winning RBI in the semi-final. He also pitched in both the no-hitters.

The final leg of the season involved traveling to Richland, WA, for the Washington State Little League Tournament. Last year we were blown out in two games, both of them 10-run shutouts.

We were hoping for more this year, and our first game was a battle. We took a long time to get our bats going, and were down 4-1 going into the sixth inning. We came alive and tied the game, taking it to extra innings. We scored once in the top of the eighth, but gave up two in the bottom to fall 6-5.

Our second game was against a really good North Bothell team, and we knew it would be a battle. We fought hard and refused to let them blow us out, eventually losing 11-5. North Bothell eventually won the tournament and became Washington state champions.

It would have been great to win a game or two, but we fought hard to the finish in both games, and scored ten runs in two games--a good showing.

Years from now, I know I'll remember the people and the conversations as much as the games. While the kids enjoyed some independence playing wiffle ball in the hotel parking lot and hanging out at the pool and hot tub, the parents all gathered on the hotel patio to eat and drink and tell stories and laugh. We laughed a lot.

Sometimes you end up on teams where there are clicks, with both players and parents. But this team was special. The kids all got along, on and off the field. They were a true team. And the parents were a wonderful group of people. Everyone hung out together and had fun and cheered our kids on.

The conclusion of the season also means changes for me moving forward. I've coached with either Brad or Jim or both for the last six years.

Both their boys are twelve and will move up to the next level next year. Cash has one more year in Majors, so I'll coach him along with Sean. I'll miss coaching with Brad and Jim, but look forward to becoming manager again after two years of assisting. I'm also looking forward to working with Sean again--he is a great coach and a great friend.

That will be it for Cash and me, our last season of Little League. I'm excited, but right now it's time to turn our attention to soccer!

Here are some pics from the season.

2019 Washington District 11 Little League All-Star Champs!

Cash did a fantastic job at shortstop both at Districts and State

Cash batting at the District Tournament

Me, Jim Walker and team--pre-game at the District Championship



Tyler Walker and Cash--love watching these two play

Jim and Tyler Walker



Jim Walker, Me, Brad Stallings and Sean Lockwood--I'm thankful for great coaches and friends!


Brady played with us in some of our extra Cal Ripken games

Cash on the mound and Brady at Short


Me coaching the Cashman on first



Great showing at the State Tournament


Enjoying grown-up time with some of my favorite people at State--me, Brad Stallings, Jim Walker, Drew Fleshman and Alison Studley


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sports Dad

I love attention and affirmation. Probably part of why I've spent much of my adult life in ministry and education. Pastors and teachers get a lot of love and attention. They also get their share of criticism, but the positive usually makes it worth it.

As a kid I was much the same way. I wanted to be popular; I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be really good at something. I played Little League Baseball as a kid, and loved the game, but I wasn't very good. I played catcher, and was OK on defense, but I couldn't hit. I struck out a lot, hit a lot of weak grounders, and occasionally had a decent hit.

I was never a leader on the team, and was never a star. Some of my classmates were in that group. They were among the guys that pitched and hit home runs and got their names in the paper. I wanted to be like them, to get the recognition they did.

I did get my name in the paper once. I had two hits in a game--a single and a triple--and was thrilled to see my name in print. I think I still have that clipping somewhere. But that was a rare event.

Overall, I was not that good. I never made All-Stars. So when I finished Little League at age 12 I hung up my cleats and started umpiring. Over the years I became very good at it. I ran a marathon and competed in a 100-mile bike race. I played softball for many years and had a blast.

But in recent years I've discovered something even better than being a great athlete, or a leader on a team, or an All-Star. For the last 15 years I've been the father of great athletes.

It began with Ashley in soccer. She started young, and I watched her grow from a little girl who played soccer into a fantastic athlete. She played with boldness and passion and energy--she became a leader and was always one of the best players on the field. She was a soccer bad-ass. She played within the rules, but she played a tough, physical game.

Ashley played soccer for years, up through high school, and I loved watching her play.

Ashley's brothers have continued her legacy. Brady and Cash play baseball and soccer and basketball. They are both much better baseball players than I was. I like to take some credit, as I taught them to throw and catch before they could even walk. Baseball was a big part of their lives from early on. I coached them in T-ball, then coach-pitch, then into regular baseball. I've coached one or the other or both for the last eight seasons.

And I've found more joy in their successes than I ever would have in my own. I love coaching them and cheering for them. I love watching them work hard and succeed. I love watching them win and I love watching them persevere when they don't win.

Brady (13) finished his Little League career last year. I coached him through three All-Star teams and we won two district championships. Coaching your son in an All-Star District championship game feels like winning the World Series (I imagine). The joy and excitement is amazing.

Cash (11) is playing on his third All-Star team right now. We just won our second straight District Tournament. In four games we scored 48 runs and gave up one. Our pitchers threw two combined no-hitters, and Cash pitched in both of them.

This Friday we head to Eastern Washington for the state tournament. I love these days. I love being out on the field. I love watching the kids work and play and yell and battle and celebrate.

We are a small-town team. I hope we can make a run at state, but it will be tough to compete with the teams from Seattle and other big cities--they just have a much larger pool of players from which to draw. But our kids work hard and give it everything. However far we go, I'm grateful for the experience and the wonderful times spent with Cash and his teammates, and the good friends I coach with.

I loved playing and umpiring baseball and running track and running and biking. But none of it compares to the joy of coaching and cheering my kids.

Here are some pics from the tournament; thanks to Anna Weynands and Drew Fleshman!

Cash played short when he wasn't pitching



Cash went 10-for-15 in the tournament

Cash pitched in both of the Tigers' two no-hitters


Cash after a 3-run double in the semifinals

Watching our opponents during introductions

Pre-game Pledge!

Celebrating

District Champs

Tyler's hip injury flared up in the last inning. I'm helping him back to the dugout after he walked. I love this picture and I love that kid. 

My All-Star

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Missing Texas and One of My Favorite People

I've blogged on and off for years (more off in recent years), and always struggled with what I wanted to write about--sports, faith, family, music, movies...

Recently it hit me what I want to write about; what I need to write about. People. The hundreds of people who have impacted my life. I am who I am because of them. The memories that have meaning in my life are because of the people with whom I've walked through life's experiences and adventures.

For some reason I've been really nostalgic for Fort Worth lately. Lately I've missed it even more than usual, and really long to go there.

I want to take my kids there and show them the places I used to go--Hope Church, Southwestern Baptist Seminary, the Ballpark in Arlington, Gateway Park where we played softball, the Stockyards, Sundance Square, Grapevine Mills, and more fantastic restaurants and coffee shops than I can remember.

All those great places were special because of the people I was with in those places--friends from Hope, from the ballpark, the great guys with whom I umpired, a few strong, patient women I dated, and most of all the kids I taught and the people I taught with at Heritage Christian Academy. I loved those days, year after year. I loved watching "my kids" grow up and become successful in so many ways. I loved spending time with families that took me in as one of them.

I'd like to use this blog to tell the stories of the people that have impacted my life--or at least the parts where I got to be part of their stories.


Me and Mike Poff, Cracker Barrel February 2019

I'm going to start randomly with Mike Poff. Not too random--Mike was a big part of my life for many years; and still is.

I met Mike in the summer of 1992. I had moved to Fort Worth to go to seminary, and had been encouraged by some friends in Virginia (Rusty Coram, Chris Hough) to check out Hope Church. I had met pastor Harold Bullock at a retreat when I was in college, and was intrigued. Hope had a fantastic reputation as a church that was effectively reaching non-Christians and bringing them into the church.

Within the first week or two in Fort Worth I went to a newcomer's lunch after Sunday worship at Hope. Mike was helping out at the lunch. We ended up sitting next to each other and quickly learned we were both from Virginia. We discovered we had a lot in common--sports, movies, etc.

We quickly became good friends, and Mike has been a true friend for 27 years now; half my life! We were not just friends, but also ministry partners, softball teammates, and even roommates for a time in Fort Worth. Mike was one of those guys I knew I could always count on. He was always there for me, through some real ups and downs.

He is often hard on himself when we talk about a challenging situation we had to work through when we were roommates (a situation I created), but truth is he handled it well. We both made mistakes, but we gave and received grace, and our friendship grew stronger. He has continued to encourage and challenge me for years.

I moved from Texas back to Virginia in 2002, and Mike followed soon after, becoming pastor at a church near where I lived. He and his lovely wife Anna are still there. We've spent a lot of time together over the years, and have always had incredible conversations; often while watching baseball games. Even since I moved to Washington, we talk often, Mike's is still one of the first voices I seek when I need guidance.

In recent years we have built a wonderful tradition of lunch at Cracker Barrel whenever I am in Virginia. I love and appreciate you, Brother!

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Hello 2018

Family Dinner, surprised by Ashley, July

2017 was one of the most eventful years of my life. There were some great highs, terrible lows and some big changes.

January
I started the year working a new job at HUB International, a commercial insurance broker. I had left Logos in late 2016, after five years, to begin a new job. That lasted for about five months.

February
I went back to Logos. Several positive changes had taken place since I left, and I was glad to be reunited with my old team. It has been great being back there.

February began an incredible sports year for Cash as his basketball team finished the season undefeated. It was his first time playing basketball, and he had a blast. Both boys were leaders on their indoor soccer teams.

March
Baseball season! For the first time the boys were on different teams. I coached Cash’s Minor league team while Brady moved up to Majors to play with coach Jim Walker.

Brady on the Mound

April

Brady and Cash got some nice hiking gear for Christmas, so the boys and I pledged to do more hiking. We went on several fun hikes throughout the year and hope to do more in 2018.








Easter was especially meaningful as both Brady and Cash made commitments to follow Jesus and were baptized. I was thrilled to baptize them with Dave Browning, our friend and pastor of our church. Dave was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in February. Easter was one of our last times with him.

Pastor Dave and me baptizing Brady

Cash

Cash, Ashley and Brady at Easter


Family at Easter

Baseball continued to roll on.

Cash behind the plate


May
I turned 52; Brady turned 11.

Cash, Tyler Walker and Brady; dinner after baseball on Brady's birthday.

June

Baseball wrapped up with a storybook season for the Thunder (the team I coached and Cash played on). We went 13-1 and finished in first place. After losing in the first round of the playoff tournament, won seven straight games, including 9-8 in a 9-inning final game, to win the championship.



Both boys made their All-Star teams (Cash the 9-10 team, which I coached; and Brady the 10-11 team). Both teams had good tournaments, but did not win the district as Brady’s team had the year before.

July
We were fortunate to go to several Mariners games this summer, as we do every year. It's usually the boys and me, but Jamie came with us to this game, where the M's beat the Red Sox in 13 innings!




My best friend Dale Crockett came up to visit from Texas. Dale and I became friends when we were nine years old, and had remained close for 43 years--visiting each other frequently and talking all the time.

Here is a post I wrote about Dale a few years ago.

Dale brought sons Ryan and Benjamin, and his girlfriend Liz. They spent five days with us, and we had a fantastic vacation. I tend to be a “let’s just relax” person when it comes to vacation, but Dale wanted to go and see and do.

We packed a lot into five days. On Saturday we went to my company picnic--always a fun time with games and incredible food!

On Sunday we went to church, then to my sister-in-law Linde’s art show, then drove up to Birch Bay. We went to the beach and let the boys play in the water. We had a delicious lunch, then went for a walk down the beach and got ice cream at the C Shop.

Liz and Brady at Birch Bay

On Monday we drove up to Mt. Baker and went for a fun and challenging hike--much of it through snow! That night Jamie joined us for a fun summer dinner on the patio at Johnny Carino’s.





Tuesday we drove down to Seattle. Dale took Benjamin and Brady on a tour of CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks and Sounders play (they only had three tickets left).



Liz, Cash, Ryan and I walked around, shopped and saw some cool sights.

That evening we went to Seattle Center, played in the fountain, went up the Space Needle and ate pizza. Another great day.

Liz and Dale

On Wednesday we took a ferry out to Friday Harbor. We played football and basketball in a park, had a great seafood lunch, walked and window-shopped and had ice cream.

On the return trip, while Liz and the boys sat inside the ferry, Dale and I went out on the deck and watched a beautiful Washington sunset. We talked about life and love, our kids, the past and the future. It was a wonderful conversation.

Ryan Crockett, Cash and Brady, Ben Crockett

We said goodbye that night at our house as Dale, his boys and Liz drove down to Seattle for their last night in Washington. Later that night Dale asked Liz to marry him.

It was the best vacation I could ask for. Dale and I had fun with each other, fun with our boys, and it was wonderful to get to know Liz, whom Dale loved so much.

The following Friday was one of the worst days of my life. I woke up to see a message from Liz asking me to call her. When she answered, she told me that Dale had gone for a run the night before (on his birthday), had a heart attack, and died.

I was devastated. Apart from my family, no one was closer to me. Dale probably knew me better than anyone. He was my brother. Losing Dale was like losing a part of myself. I am still grieving. Hard.

August
I flew to San Antonio for Dale’s service and spent an amazing four days with Dale’s family as we remembered and honored Dale. Mr. and Mrs. Crockett invited me to stay with them, and just as when we were kids, they made me feel like part of the family. It was a powerful time with the Crockett and Perren families.

The day I returned to Washington, the boys and I flew to Virginia for an already scheduled vacation.




It was good to be home, where Dale and I grew up. We had wonderful time with my parents--Grandma Helen and Grandpa Jerry; as well as my brother Eric, his son Eric Jr. and family; my step-sister Cora and husband Steve; it was good being with them.

My brother Eric and I took the boys to Kings Dominion, something that has become sort of a tradition in recent years.

I got to see lots of great friends--the Jenkins family, the Schleyers, Chris Hough, Mike Poff, Rusty Coram, Kenny and Karen Budd, Andy and Erin Gibson, Johnny Gallagher and Janelle Cesari; Elise Bell and a lot of great friends from high school.

High School Friends gathering to remember Dale

Another highlight was seeing Brad Walker. Brad, Dale and I were best friends when we were in elementary and middle school. I hadn’t seen Brad since high school, but he flew from his home in Illinois to join us in remembering Dale. It was wonderful catching up with him.

Me, Rodney Dickhute and Brad Walker. Good friends and neighbors with Dale.

Potomac Nats game with Grandpa Jerry!

We returned home to Washington and the boys got ready for school. Brady began middle school (sixth grade), and Cash started fourth grade.

September
On the first, our pastor and friend Dave Browning died. Dave and I had known each other for about eight years, and had become much closer the last two years. He was the latest in a line of great men that God has brought into my life to mentor me. We met for coffee or lunch regularly, sharing ideas and encouraging each other. He was a great man.

Dave Browning

There was good news--Jamie started a new job as Health Room Assistant at the boys' school. After commuting to Anacortes for six years, she was glad to now be working four minutes from home!

Jamie with Brady and Cash; first day of school

Both boys began soccer season; playing with many of the same kids they had in the past.

Cash with a corner kick

Cash with a penalty kick

Brady was always the guy who works the hardest

The boys also played fall baseball--Jim Walker, who coached Brady in the spring, coached the team, and I had fun helping out.

Cash was the youngest player on the team, but had a great season, as did Brady. Both boys played really well.

Brady pitching/Cash catching in Fall Ball

Brady began a new activity playing snare drum in the middle school band! We had a wonderful time at his first concert at Christmas time.



On the 15th Cash turned ten. Double digits.

I traveled to Nashville with work; representing Logos at a conference at the Opryland Hotel. It’s a fantastic place to be! I spent a special morning touring the Johnny Cash museum downtown.



The highlight of the trip came after the conference, on a visit with my grandmother, who is 95 years old!



October 
I took a work trip to our office in Tempe, Arizona. It was a great time of team-building with some of my friends and co-workers there.


Boys roasting marshmallows as Autumn set in


November

Ashley turned 22. That just doesn't seem possible. We didn't see her as much this year, as she stayed in Portland for the summer, working. We saw her on holidays, and a few other times she came home or we went to Portland.

We had a great time surprising her by going down in August; and she surprised me by picking me up at the airport when I returned from one of my trips.

She is about to begin her final semester of college, which also doesn't seem possible. She has done an amazing job and is looking ahead to big things.

Cash’s soccer team, the Storm, finished an undefeated season and won the league tournament. Cash had an incredible season. In 2017 his teams finished in first place in basketball, baseball and soccer.



Brady’s team didn’t win as much, but still had a great season--and Brady was a great leader.

I took another work trip, this time to Providence, RI, and Boston. It was another good time with friends and co-workers.

The boys began indoor soccer and basketball. It never slows down.



I had an up and down year with my health. I injured my back in January--a slipped disc and pinched nerve, but physical therapy helped a lot. In the summer I joined the local Planet Fitness and did a great job working out. I lost some weight and have felt much better.

I re-injured my back on Thanksgiving Day while working out. Back to physical therapy; saw improvement, then injured it again the day after Christmas. Still trying to heal and deal with the pain.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Jamie’s mom, and it was great having Ashley home!

December
We had a fun family event in December. Earlier in the year I met Brandon Graham, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, through work. He invited our family to the Eagles-Seahawks game in December. Ashley drove up from Portland and we all went to the game, then got to meet Brandon after the game. He was incredibly generous and made the kids feel special at their first NFL game (and the Seahawks won!)



We finished the year relaxing, playing games, watching football, enjoying some family time.

I am grateful for my family, and the blessings we experienced in 2017. But there is a darkness over me as I write this. 2017 was hard. I lost my best friend and my pastor. I lost two other friends--Rick Hope, who was a good friend and coworker during my years in Texas (1992-2002), and Kevin Cong Ly, a good friend and classmate at Leland Seminary. All too young.

I have never faced death like this. I am grateful for my wife and my three wonderful children. I love my job, my boss, my team--and I look forward to work most days.

But my heart is heavy over the losses. Dale was my best friend. He was the one I called when I needed help, or advice, or someone to listen. He was my rock. My person. And without him, I feel a little lost.

I know the holiday season adds to the challenge, but I am trying to walk through this time and keep loving God and loving people.

And today, on January first, I look at the year ahead.

I want to balance grief and hope.
I plan to watch less TV, and spend more time reading.
I want to get more involved in ministry, and I'm working on some ideas for that.
I'm eager to get back out there with the boys, hiking once or twice a month.
And I want to always work on being a better husband and father.

Thanks for reading!

Some pics of Dale and me through the years: