Adrian Morrison, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, has had plenty of experience writing about his area of academic expertise, REM sleep. But a few years ago, his daughter urged him to consider working on another, more personal project.
“One day she said, ‘Dad, why don’t you write down some of your stories?’” says Morrison.
The result is the book Brandywine Boy, Morrison’s memoir of growing up in the Brandywine Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania. Comprised of 11 chapters with illustrations by Gayle Joseph, an executive assistant at Penn Vet, the book chronicles in vivid detail Morrison’s adventures growing up in a postwar, changing rural environment. Though the writing project started out as a simple recording of stories for his family to enjoy, he now hopes others may be charmed by and learn from his tales.
“It’s a memoir, a history, a social history of some early Civil Rights happenings, and it has some science in there too,” says Morrison.
Most of the chapters relate seminal events in Morrison’s life. The first he wrote was “A Wild Ride,” which tells of a frightening but exhilarating encounter Morrison and his horse Rocky had with a neighbor’s herd of horses.
Other stories include a description of the vast effort that he and other neighborhood boys put into building a log cabin, the pigeon that Morrison raised and taught to fly and the local swimming hole that served as the community pool on hot summer days.
Several chapters hint at the emergence of Morrison’s desire to pursue a career as a veterinarian. In “Hill Girt Dairy Farm,” Morrison writes of a job he held working on a farm that operated along the Brandywine River. As he does several times in his memoir, Morrison pauses in this chapter’s narrative to give a science lesson, relaying the complex anatomy and workings of the ruminant stomach.
The day his beloved horse Rocky came home with a limp also helped channel his focus towards veterinary medicine.
“That experience — fortunately things turned out well — and working on Hill Girt Dairy Farm made me realize that veterinary medicine was for me,” Morrison writes, and his path didn’t swerve from the attainment of that dream through his undergraduate and graduate school years.
Though he initially thought he would pursue a career as a dairy cow vet, Morrison discovered a passion for academia as he went through his schooling. After attending Cornell University for vet school, he came to Penn where he earned a Ph.D. in anatomy and soon after joined the Penn Vet faculty. His research focuses on REM sleep and the muscle paralysis that typically accompanies it and prevents individuals from potentially acting out their dreams.
Morrison’s family moved away from their Chadds Ford farm when he was 17, first to Wisconsin and later to Maine. But taking a drive out to the area with his wife and then-young children in the 1960s confirmed the importance of the farm in his life.
“I can still see it today and remember the thought as I crossed Route 202 and began to go down the hill into the valley,” Morrison says. “I looked out and I saw the familiar hills and greenery and it hit me that this is home.”
Morrison self-published his book with assistance from CreateSpace on Feb. 11, 2013. It is available on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/brandywineboy, where it's enjoying a high customer rating and is selling well, Morrison said in May.