Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Anatomy of a photo

I had not been to the Taste of Belleville in a long time, maybe a decade or more, when I agreed last year to cover the event with my wife Jan.

It was among the earliest of our joint reporter/photographer assignments, and we were in the early stages of learning to work together. I recall suggesting photo angles for her during last year’s bridge walk, as the walkers began to march toward us, crossing the bridge.
Jan had a different perspective on the photos than I did, and I quickly realized that she was correct, even as the walkers approached us.

By then, she had begun to develop an eye and a sense of how to compose an effective scene with a photo, and I backed off. I still make suggestions, but she can take them or leave them – I trust her judgment, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about. She’s a good partner out there.

We mixed business and pleasure last year, as our children and our grandson Noah, who was only three months old at the time, joined us for the event. It worked out OK, but I felt I shortchanged them and me by covering the event.

This year, I suggested to Austen that someone else cover the event, and he agreed. I had in mind a visit to the Taste of Belleville with my family, this time without the responsibility.
We had a wonderful time. Matthew arrived a bit early with Noah, and we traveled to Belleville after spending a little time at home.

What a difference a year made – no longer in a stroller, Noah walked around Horizon Park under supervision, and he had a wonderful time, as did I.

At one point, he picked up a stick lying in the grass, and proudly showed it to me, with a look of anticipation. When we go for walks, he’s keen on grabbing a stick on the sidewalk and dragging it on the sidewalk below as he rides in the cart that I push. He's in front of me, and as we walk I can watch him.

Later, Noah and I walked on the sidewalk on High Street, in the direction of the gazebo.
I followed close behind, but I’d just as soon he explore with minimal help from me. My job is to keep him safe, and to direct as needed.

At one point, he came upon a little girl happily seated in a child’s cart. She gave him a friendly smile, but I realized in a moment what was about to occur.

He has a similar cart at home, and he wanted to enjoy it. He walked up to the little girl, gabbed the steering wheel at an angle, and began to climb into the seat.

I think he would have sat down on her had he been allowed to continue, and would clearly have preferred that the little girl remove herself altogether, enabling him to more comfortably enjoy her cart.

I picked him up, apologized to the little girl, and we walked on.

After a bit, Noah got hungry, and we went for something to eat. My daughter Kelly joined us shortly thereafter, and it was a great visit – it’s so good to see my children.

After dinner, the kids took Noah down to the lake, walking out on the docks below Johnny’s Grill to see the water and the ducks.

Noah was fascinated, and they spent several minutes down there, just enjoying the scene and the delightful summer weather.

My daughter Kelly took some photos of the scene, including the one that you see, with my son Matthew on the left, and his son Noah on the right.

It was a striking image, one that I will remember for some time.

For me, it conjures images of summer, of time with family, of community, of nature, and the ongoing process of discovery for the little guy on the right, who will do so under the guidance of people who love him.

Many thanks to the sponsors and supporters of the Taste of Belleville for providing a fun, welcoming context in which this can occur. Like the commercial says, it was priceless.

Gerald LaVaute is a staff writer for Heritage Newspapers. He can be reached at or call 1-734-429-7380. Check out our staff blog at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Watching three brothers grow a privilege

In 1970, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell authored a song, one of whose taglines was, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

How true. But its converse is equally true: that often you don’t know what you’re missing until you’re introduced to it by others.

Both my grandfathers died before I was born, so I never knew or appreciated the value in such a relationship.

But no more – because I have fallen madly in love with my 15-month old grandson Noah. I look forward to seeing him each week, and have actually begun to plan around our visits a bit, anticipating our time together.

The other day, I downloaded a song on my phone that Noah and I could dance to. I’m looking forward to introducing it to him, and having some fun with him and my wife on our next visit.
In like fashion, I never had a brother as I was growing up, although I had a good relationship with my sister.

Likewise, Jan and I raised a son and a daughter, so, although I witnessed a pair of siblings who developed a great relationship with each other and matured into fine people in their own right, I didn’t see in them a relationship among two or more brothers, or sisters for that matter.

But, slowly, I discovered a relationship among three brothers that I have come to enjoy and to appreciate, and I realize that I have begun to look forward to seeing them together.

They are the three sons of our good friend Anne Hassel, with whose family we visit every so often, often vacationing with them at the Atlantic shore.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Anne’s son David was married, and we attended the wedding, tagging along for the rehearsal, the dinner that followed, and the informal family get-togethers that weekend.

It’s great to be invited into a family. When Jan and I moved to Michigan from central New York in 1977, we left behind our ancestral families, whom we still visit twice each year, and share together major rites of passage like graduations, weddings and baby showers.

But we became for 90 percent of our lives a nuclear family, the four of us, reliant mostly on ourselves, but benefiting greatly from the kindness of our friends over the years, who have invited us into their lives and family events.

We have witnessed much love and interesting relationships among these families, but among the family relationships I’ve found most interesting has been among Matt, David and Allen Scalese.
They each have a great sense of humor, and you won’t spend much time among them before you begin laughing.

The humor with each other often teases and pokes, or challenges, as boys and men will often do among themselves. It’s great to watch the interplay of wit and humor among them.
And that accent. It’s like their mother’s – it’s a charming way of speaking whose declarative sentences end up sounding very much like questions, inviting the other to respond, to engage with each other.

And they’re fun not only to listen to, but to watch as well. They’re young, they’re energetic, and they’re witty. On my last visit, their appearance reminded me of the British actor Jason Statham, who has recently imbued alopecia with a masculine toughness.

But, despite the energy, despite the cheekiness with each other and those who would engage in their banter, they are good boys, nay, they are good men.

It’s been a hoot and a privilege to have watched them grow and develop over the years, and much of the credit goes to their mother Anne, who raised three sons and brothers who have allowed me to recognize and at times to experience what I missed in brothers’ relationships as I grew up.

Gerald LaVaute is a staff writer for Heritage Newspapers. He can be reached at or call 1-734-429-7380. Check out our staff blog at

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Young Writer's Learning Experience at the 2011 Milan Bluegrass Festival

Okay, I'm not going to sit here and lie to you all and say that I'm a big fan of bluegrass music. I'm not. (For reference, if I was writing this to a group of my friends its very possible I wouldn't say "lie" in the previous sentence, but instead say "front." Sorry.) But I also don't dislike bluegrass music. Its influences can be seen in some of the music I listen to in the terms of prevalent vocal harmonies and finger-picked acoustic guitar. See: Fleet Foxes, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Plus, I really like "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" That's a really great movie! And that was my first real experience with bluegrass, and some of those songs were really good! But as a I sat and walked around KC Campground on Saturday at the festival, there was something there that to an uninitiated observer hit me more than the music: the atmosphere and the people. I got a chance to talk with one of the bands that performed on Saturday, HeartTown, and they talked a lot about precisely that: the crowd at the Milan Bluegrass Festival is a group of people who love and really know their bluegrass. I've been to shows where there's people there who really care about the band, or at least appreciate their style of music, and then there are people there posturing or just trying to look cool. (I feel like the moral of this post is: Kevin is still kind of young.) For the record, at shows I'm usually near the front shouting along with all of the lyrics, so obviously not one of the people trying to "look cool."

But there was certainly nobody at the Festival who wasn't there to enjoy a long day (or weekend) of bluegrass music. Even when i asked people what acts they liked the best, no one could pick one. "I like them all," was a very common response. "We see these guys basically every week," said Tim Laughlin of HeartTown. "Bluegrass is like a traveling carnival, and we're the carnies," said HeartTown's Darren Beachley.

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