by Frances Edstrom
My brother Michael Cassidy Bowler's life embodied the themes of fairy tales, tragic literature, and soap operas: a cursed birth, unrequited love and terrible decisions. As we say today, "The kid never caught a break." It is amazing that burdened as he was in life, he was still able to maintain a quirky sense of humor, a desire to please and to work hard, and a fierce love of family.
One early morning in November of 1958, I came down the stairs to find my mother sobbing as she sat on the couch holding newborn Michael, whose tiny body was wracked with convulsions. After it was discovered that Michael had epilepsy, his life was never free from the medications that held the disease in check. Medicine could treat that disease, but there was no medication that could raise his IQ so that he could have the things he wanted desperately: to be smart in school, glib with the girls, hold a good job, and have a beautiful wife and wonderful children.
Michael did do many things that some in his situation could not. He held a driver's license, and the scenes from his history as a driver would rival those in, say, Lethal Weapon. But there were funny moments, too, like the time he gave a friend a ride to Pennsylvania, and ran out of money on the way back to Framingham. Undeterred, he simply explained the situation at every toll booth on the way home, and asked them to send him the bill in the mail. Sure enough, a week or so later, the bills started rolling in to his sister Mary Ann's house, and she started writing the checks. After he totaled his fourth and final vehicle, my sister Susan and I told him he could get another car if he could pass the driver's test again. Then we said a novena to St. Christopher that he would flunk it. Lucky for everyone in a five-hundred-mile radius, he never took it, and let his feet get him around after that.
Michael held jobs, which usually ended when he walked out in the middle of the workday to give some girl a ride here or there. What's more important, he figured, bagging groceries or doing a favor for a friend in need, particularly a female one.
He lived independently, but craved the company of family, and lived most often at our parents' home, and after mother's death, with Mary Ann. He never shirked hard work, but couldn't understand why he wasn't allowed to run the new power lawn mower simply because he destroyed the last new one. He was a whiz with things non-motorized, though, like rakes.
He never gave up trying to meet the right girl. Once at a gathering, a tall, good-looking smooth-talker was chatting up a beautiful friend of my daughters' when Michael sidled up and interrupted their conversation, saying, "Hey, do you like short guys?" And a couple of weeks ago, as he was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, he tried to get the EMT worker's phone number.
When we found out that Mike's cancer was incurable, my brother Jay asked him if he would like to take a trip somewhere he'd always wanted to go. Mike answered that he'd like to go to Montana. Montana, Jay thought, the guy doesn't fish, hunt, hike or bird-watch, why Montana. Well, a dozen years earlier Mike had been there with our parents and met a beautiful waitress. He'd like to go look her up, he said.
When Michael and I went a couple of years ago to prepay his funeral, the funeral director asked him if there was any special music he'd like. Michael thought and said, "Well, I've always liked Ricky Nelson."
After the funeral parlor, we went to choose a burial plot, and I then realized how deeply he was attached to his family. He took me on a tour of the graves of the Bowler family, knowing right where each one was. Then he stood on his own gravesite and said, "Look Dad and Mum, I'm right here."
Michael will be deeply missed, but he is clearly in a better place. God doesn't measure the worth of a soul with an IQ test.