Junie.

Many of us are lucky enough to get to know at least one grandparent in our lifetime.  They may have a legal name, but it’s highly likely that when we were young, we called them something slightly (or drastically) different.  My grandmother’s name was June, but to me, and to my friends and family, she was, and will forever be…

Junie.

My grandmother passed away two years ago today, November 7th, 2010, about a month before her 87th birthday.  After a long, beautiful, full life, she fought through an exhausting, deadly blood disease to see her only grandson get married at the age of 29.  The last day that I saw my grandmother, she was sitting at Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham, in my grandfather, Charlie Bertsch’s room (right next to her room).  It was ‘pajama’ day at the school where I teach, but I had time during lunch to take my wife, Mindy, over to visit.  I came in the room, and Junie immediately started laughing hysterically.  We sat down, chatted for about 20 minutes, and as we left, I gave my grandmother a hug and a kiss, and she smiled back at me and said “I love you.” Little did I know how fortunate I was to share this last brief, beautiful, heart-warmingly simple moment with her.  She’d always been emotional, in fact every time we left their home in Warsaw, Indiana in the last probably 20 years she would cry, not just because she would miss being with us, but because she didn’t think she had much time left.  Now, 22 years later, I have had valuable time to reflect on one of the most important people in my life.  Here are tidbits of the story that is Junie.

June Brown, born December 6th, 1923 in Hazard, Kentucky.  Yes, Hazard as in the Dukes of Hazard.  She always had a special place in her heart for the Blue Ridge Mountains, and when I attended Appalachian State University, in the heart of said mountains, she was thrilled beyond belief.  Here is Junie, on the right, sitting on the front porch of their Hazard home with her mother (who I called Mimi) and her brother I believe (who died at a very young age) before they moved to Warsaw, Indiana.

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When she was a teenager, she and her mother moved to Warsaw, Indiana, where she would live until she moved to North Carolina in 2010.  These photos were taken around 1940.

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My grandmother was a beautiful, smart young woman, and she was able to get a job in the Warsaw High School front office.  She would keep track of all the student’s absences; little did she know this position would change her life forever.

While working, one particular student’s name kept surfacing as absent.  His name was Charles Bertsch.  Junie thought he had the silliest name she’d ever heard, and as she became more familiar with the name, and eventually met the young man, she realized there was more to this person than just the name.  She found out that Charlie was absent because he was spending time with his father farming.  They went on dates together, and fell in love…you know, the classic good girl meets hard working bad boy story.  Here they are, during the winter of 1942 outside Charlie’s family’s home.

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During their young lives together, Junie and Charlie enjoyed being together in Warsaw with their families.  Junie did some work in the local community at their church, as well as other local organizations, as Charlie waited to see if he would go to war.  In 1943, Charlie decided to join the Army, so the two did their best to enjoy their time together before he shipped out to the South Pacific.

Here, Junie is spending time with her sister.

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She had professional photos done in a studio for Charlie before he left in 1943 so that he could keep them with him during the war.  Here are a few.

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Junie and Charlie enjoyed as much time together as they could.  Enjoying a bike ride, or spending time at the house where Charlie grew up.

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In the latter part of ‘43, Charlie shipped out to Fort Bliss, Texas for basic training, where he would prepare for his two-year tour in the South Pacific during WWII, where he would fight in Fiji, Panay and the Philippines as a Anti-Aircraft unit Sergeant in the 233rd.  Before he left, though, Junie joined him in Fort Bliss, where they spent a short time together, and were married while on the base.  The pastor who married them would tell Junie during the ceremony “If Charlie drives you through life the way he drove me around through the desert last night, I know you’ll be OK.”

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Charlie was stationed off the coast of Japan when the bombs were dropped.  His unit was awaiting orders regarding the invasion of Japan, but luckily, as the war came to a close, he returned home with hundreds of thousands of his countrymen.  When he returned home safely, Junie and Charlie started a family.  They had a beautiful daughter, Dianne.

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Around the time Dianne came around, Charlie decided he would get into the vending business.  He started in his garage with one 5 cent candy machine that he took to different locations in his pickup truck.  Junie became the business’ secretery, and Bertsch Vending was born.  At the peak of their success, Bertsch Services would be one of the biggest vending companies in the midwest, and Charlie would serve as president of the national vending association, NAMA.

When Dianne grew up, she and her husband Jim moved to Kalamazoo, MI, where they adopted me, Jordan.  Nothing brought a bigger thrill to Junie’s life than meeting her grandson.  We formed an immediate, unique bond that would only grow stronger and stronger over the years.

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Our family has always loved traveling, and Junie and I were fortunate to share some wonderful experiences together traveling to different places.

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I also was lucky enough to grow up around Bertsch Services, where Junie, Charlie (grampa, or as my wife calls him, prampa) and I shared many amazing memories, like the first time I drove around a little tikes jeep.

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Junie continued to play an active part in my life until the day she passed away.  Even after we moved to North Carolina, our bond never changed.

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No matter where we lived, Christmas time was always Junie time.  We were lucky to be able to share Christmas together.  I remember when my grandparents lived in Warsaw, and Junie had a packing table in their basement covered in gifts, where she would start wrapping in probably August.  We also enjoyed many years of baking uncomparable home-made frosted sugar cookies (which is a tradition Mindy and I and our friends carry on today), and as you can see here, Junie was also a bit of a shopaholic…

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Also one of Junie’s greatest loves was college football season.  She’d had connections with Purdue University (she had a good friend who was a Dean there) so she got to go see Purdue play.  When I got to Appalachian, she was so thrilled that we had a great football team, and she vowed to one day get to a football game in Boone.  As time went on, and her ailment started to take more of a toll, we were afraid she wouldn’t have that opportunity.  We were wrong.

A few years back, my grandmother donated some money to Appalachian’s scholarship fund.  She had heard me talk about what an amazing man our head coach, Jerry Moore, was.  She read about the team, and kept up with the scores.  She wrote coach Moore a letter stating that she was so happy that Appalachian’s football program did things the right way.  She was so very generous, but never expected anything in return.  A week later, she received a hand-written letter from coach Moore, not only thanking her for the generous gift, but also mentioning that his son lived in Wisconsin, and that they next time he and his wife, Margaret would be up in the midwest, they would stop by to see Junie at her home in Warsaw, Indiana.

Junie was blown away by the letter, and she and coach Moore wrote a few more letters back and forth, one of which Junie used to explain to coach Moore how much she’s always wanted to own a football team (The Chicago Bears, to be exact).  Coach Moore, as well as our good friends Rick Beasley and Kindsay Greene Reeder tried to figure out how to get Junie to a football game.  We planned to bring her up to a game soon after she would move to NC, hoping her health would hold up. We drove her up for the day, and she got to meet coach Moore and speak with him for the only time in her life.  It was amazing. 

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Coach said “June, if we win this game, can I get you to come down into the locker room after?” to which she said “of course!”  At the end of a rivalry game in which App won by over 30 points, there we were, in the locker room, my grandmother in a wheelchair and me right behind.  Coach Moore asked her to come join the team huddle in the middle of the locker room.  He told the story about the letters, and about the bond he had made with Junie, how he wished that he could get her the Chicago Bears, but that he would be proud to give her the game ball.  Junie was shocked, and as she took the game ball while the players around were cheering, she said “other than my husband, my daughter, and my grandson here…this is the best day of my life.” 

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Mindy and I, as well as our family and friends (many of my friends Junie considered her own grandchildren) were thrilled beyond belief that Junie and Grampa could both sit side by side at our wedding.  At one point when Mindy and I were still dating, Junie threatened that if I didn’t “**** or get off the pot” so to speak, and ask Mindy to marry me, she would replace me with her.  Her love for Mindy was just as special and unique as my relationship with her.  

So as you could expect, our wedding was an emotional day for numerous reasons, and in Junie’s opinion, one of the crowning acheivements of her life.  She fought so hard, choosing to get day-long blood transfusions to battle her blood disease, simply to stay strong enough to live until our wedding day.  Her nurses, her doctors, her friends, they all knew about our wedding; it was Junie’s last wish, and it was an experience that we will all remember forever.

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I hope that many years from now, my life will be defined as Junie’s has been; a life full of love, passion, generosity, giving, and true un-equalled kindness.  Whether it be in marriage…

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or family, or service.  Her devotion to her husband, her daughter, and to her grandson has helped shaped how I live each day.

Junie, we all miss you, and we are truly fortunate that you shared your love with us.  We are all better people because of you.

As your grandson, know that wherever you are, your spirit lives strong in me, and will always.  Mom, Mindy, Grampa and I promise to follow your example, and continue to care for others, and love with the same passion you did your whole life.

I love you. Thank you for always being with me.

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Cadence & Ethan | sibling love

I went far back into the JAM archives (back to when we weren’t yet called JAM, and we didn’t even have a blog) to see images from our last photo session with this adorable family. February of 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago. Especially not almost four years ago. But seeing how much Cadence has grown, and meeting her new baby brother - well it makes you realize how quickly time passes.

A couple of adorable images of Cadence from our first session in downtown Durham:

 I mean seriously, how cute is she? Walking around the ATC with her breakfast in hand in the cutest coat & hat we ever saw.  

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 Such an adorable baby face. Now let’s meet her baby brother!

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Here is little Ethan! I definitely see some resemblance there. :)

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I love baby faces, and always want to caption interesting expressions. “I do say there, deary, would you mind telling me what that clicking contraption is that you keep putting in front of your face? It seems to be aimed at me. Hmm.”

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I never tire of baby details, especially when there’s a beautiful full head of hair to be photographed.

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And baby feets! Oh just look - the toes! 

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This little curl, however…I think it’s my favorite.

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Cadence today. She’s grown so much, but still has that adorable face! And is just as silly, which we love. :)

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Rocking baby Ethan

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The very sweetest thing.

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Cuties!

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Cadence enjoyed a game of tag (or three) with dad while we photographed Ethan. Love the motion in these.

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One more snuggly shot with these two. Sweet!

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Up next is a family session - yay! We can’t wait to see you all again!

~JAM

Carolina Tiger Rescue | Pittsboro, NC

Saving and protecting wildcats in captivity and in the wild.”

That’s the mission of Carolina Tiger Rescue. It’s one of our favorite places to visit, both for the animals and the people who work with them. Each time we visit and post Instagram photos of these beautiful cats, we’re flooded with questions about Carolina Tiger Rescue (“CTR”): Where is it? What do they do? Can I go? Do they let you touch the tigers? What are you feeding them? What do you mean you adopted tigers, do they live with you? What kind of animals do they have there?

Quick response time: It’s in Pittsboro, NC; They save wild cats, big and small; Yes, they give wonderful tours!; No, there is a no-touch policy (whew, let’s keep our fingers and hands, folks); We bring beef & chicken for them - raw; All of the cats, big and small, live in wonderful enclosures at Carolina Tiger Rescue; CTR is home to tigers, lions, ocelots, servals, caracals, bintarongs, bobcats, cougars, leopards, and kinkajous.

Please note, Carolina Tiger Rescue has a membership drive going on right now! Visit their website here to learn more about the organization, and keep up with them on facebook here! Become a member or tour the facility to learn about their efforts, meet many of these amazing animals and hear their stories.

Now before we chat anymore, let’s see some of these cats! We’d like to introduce you to two tigers we’ve adopted, as well as an ocelot.  

This is Bali. He’s been at CTR since 2010, and we love him so. He’s not on the public tour route, but as adoptive parents we’ve trained to give private tours and can head back to his neck of the woods. We feel especially lucky to be able to get back to his enclosure to visit and bring him treats. He lives in one of the most peaceful places at CTR, in our opinion.

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One amazing thing about Bali is not just his size, but his ability to quickly and oh-so-quietly approach us when he sees us coming. An animal this large with such stealth is an amazing thing to witness in person. 

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We have two house kitties at home, and Bali sits for treats just like they do. But don’t be fooled. He’s such a sweet guy, but he is no house cat. :) 

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This was just seconds after Jordan tossed a chicken over the fence. And, he’s off!

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Chicken found, and gobbled in about 60 seconds.

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 Here is our dear Magoo, an ocelot. I don’t have any shots of him roaming about his enclosure, because he’s always immediately at the fence when he hears us. It may have something to do with us bearing meat treats.

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Magoo has a very distinct growling sound, which we think sounds exactly like a motorcycle. He was absolutely making that sound as I snapped this photo.

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Here’s Magoo enjoying some beef shish kabob tartare. While growling. Nomnomnom. Isn’t he handsome with that belly? It’s too bad that his mates are often hunted for their fur. Especially since it can take as many as 35 pelts to make one fur coat. Sad news, Magoo. But we’ll take care of you.

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 These beauties are, left to right, Christian, Kizmet, and Max. Max is our other adopted tiger. He lives with friends, and we love visiting all three of them. Here’s Jordan getting their beef tartare ready. We jokingly call these beef tips “tiger tictacs,” since they’re gone in about two seconds. Though they do still appreciate the small treats. :)

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Kizmet & Max (Christian in the background), sharing some love after a tiger tictac or two. :)

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We visit as many of the cats as we can, and would love to introduce you to a few more of our cat friends.

This is Rajah. He and his sister Kayla were found wandering a highway near Charlotte, NC in 2005. Thankfully CTR had a place for them to call home permanently.

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Kayla shares an enclosure with Rajah. On this day they both decided to relax in the shade as we passed by after our visit with Bali. 

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Jellybean, as you can see, is CTR’s white tiger, their one and only. They’re very rare and highly sought-after. Jelly is one of the most talkative cats at Tiger Rescue. 

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 Camilla is one of the newer rescues, and we happened upon her splashing in her pool on this visit. As soon as she saw us (and probably as soon as she smelled the meat we carried), she bounded out of the water towards the fence. Which resulted in one of my all-time favorite tiger photos. :)

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 Investigating…

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She seemed fairly comfortable with us after a while, rolling around like a house cat. 

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 There are also lions at CTR, and this is a new guy! Roman, it was very nice to meet you. 

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This is Rajahji, the elder Rajah. If you sign up for a tour, he’s the first tiger you’ll meet. He chuffs (and sometimes sprays), and is quite a social guy with guests.

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Handsome guy Raj - nice teeth!

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Here is a serval friend, though I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t know which one. But I’m always captivated by their markings, just like with the ocelots. Though what’s most amazing to me is their hind legs - they can jump vertically up to 10 feet in the air to catch birds. Ten feet! 

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Here is Camilla’s enclosure-mate, Roscoe. Hiding out in his den as the clouds rolled in.

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That’s all of the photos we have for now, but will continue to grab a few more with each visit to CTR. We bring friends and family when we can (so if you’d like to join for a private tour, please let us know), and encourage everyone we know to visit with or without us. They can always use your support, whether it’s through a membership, taking a tour, donations (monetary donations, volunteering, or food donations are all appreciated), or adoption.

And in closing, here’s a cute shot of my favorite private tour guide. :)

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~JAM