Growing up as a child in the Midwest afforded author Kevin Fenton a positive experience that has helped shape his entire life. In his new book, “Leaving Rollingstone,” Fenton carefully weaves together his childhood memories and a close-up look at the complex issues and stresses that affected his family, which he was not as attuned to as a child. The memoir takes a nostalgic, yet hard, look at one child’s view of the world around him, from his close-knit family to the town that helped raise him.
Fenton began working on “Leaving Rollingstone” just after 9/11; he recalls how the first draft of the first chapter focused on the good memories, like having cocoa and getting the cows. “They were really good memories for me, but both my mom and dad were under a great deal of stress [at the time],” Fenton explained.
The less idyllic moments of life were added to that first chapter later. “I started writing the book in the mind of that child, and I wanted to be true to him,” Fenton added.
“Leaving Rollingstone” also takes a look at the struggles of life in small towns in the Midwest, from running a farm to the closing of the local school. Fenton’s brother, Dennis, who is 10 years older than Kevin, has a much broader perspective of life on the farm. Fenton says that Dennis took on a lot of responsibility back then, and he spoke with Dennis while writing this book to ensure that his perspective was added.
Fenton experienced a childhood education, he says, that allowed him to ask the big questions, ones less related to arithmetic and more related to life. “I was asking questions in third or fourth grade that I wasn’t able to ask again until I got to college,” Fenton noted. One of his goals for the book was to share his positive experience with Catholic schooling. “I spent the rest of my educational life searching for a teacher that good,” he says.
“I think I would be a very different person if I hadn’t grown up in Rollingstone,” Fenton said. “I gained a lot from being from a town where I trusted every adult in the town, to the point that my house could have burned down and I could have walked into any other household in town and been raised properly.”
This upbringing did lead to a slight shock after leaving home, however. “I had never met a Protestant,” Fenton noted. “A contemporary kid would probably feel more at ease with a Hindu or a Muslim than I did encountering a Lutheran, initially.”
“Leaving Rollingstone” integrates a romanticized past with a quiet notion many Americans may be unaware of: “the way we grew up in the Midwest is really valuable, and once you account for the nostalgia, it’s a very lucky way to grow up,” Fenton added.
Kevin Fenton also authored an award-winning novel loosely based on Winona, "Merit Badges." He lives in St. Paul, works in advertising, and teaches fiction. The Winona County Historical Society will be holding a Kevin Fenton talk and book signing October 19, at 1 p.m.