The trouble started well before Jerry Butler was born. Mrs. Butler, Jerry’s mom, started having problems with her pregnancy in about her third month; by the forth month she was bedridden and miserable. The doctors, as well as family members, started to suggest she terminate the pregnancy, but Mrs. Butler was determined to have the baby. As she approached the third trimester, it became unrealistic to think the baby wouldn’t be born early. A quick look at Mrs. Butler in bed made people think of a bloated cow; how could a woman’s stomach stretch so much? Finally the doctors decided it was time to induce labor and deliver the child.
The cesarean section took hours, and the doctors were flabbergasted by what they saw. Jerry was healthy in every way, but his head was the largest one anyone could remember. Jerry’s body was normal in size, which made his head look even bigger. After the initial shock faded, Mrs. Butler was just happy to have a healthy child. During the first couple of years, there were not many problems that couldn’t be addressed. Normal baby clothes had to be altered to fit over Jerry’s head; Mrs. Butler became an expert at adding zippers and snaps to clothes that were made to be pulled on. The Butlers bought a baby carriage made for twins and took the divider out so Jerry and his head would fit.
The hardest and most frustrating period came as Jerry was learning to walk. His head was so heavy he couldn’t lift the weight into an upright position. While all babies have trouble with balance, that trouble was multiplied for Jerry. He learned to place his forehead on the ground and pull his feet under himself. This worked well on wood or tile floors; Jerry could slide himself from room to room without much trouble. It was strange to watch him slide around the house. Slowly, Jerry learned to pull his head off the floor just slightly, but he still couldn’t stand.
When he was about ten, Jerry’s back and neck were getting strong enough to pull his legs up and under himself, and with fast footwork he could stand. It was crazy to watch; Jerry would rush forward and then backward, much like a circus performer trying to balance objects in the air. Jerry wore holes in the carpet from swinging back and forth, while attempting to remain upright. Kids in the neighborhood would gather just to see Jerry stand.
When mere standing was no longer a problem for Jerry, Mr. Butler rigged a bicycle with a huge u-shaped brace that Jerry could rest his head in. As long as Jerry stayed on streets that were flat, things were not a problem, but once, when Jerry went down the hill by school, he gained so much speed, with his head bent forward, he couldn’t make the turn at the bottom, and he shot off the road and into the woods. The local kids were always trying to get Jerry to ride that hill again.
Instead of getting hurt by all this, Jerry decided he could use the weight of his head in a positive way. Jerry took skiing lessons. The lift operators were great to Jerry; they would let a few empty chairs go up and then help him on the chair. Crowds would gather to watch Jerry get off the chair, and once he turned downhill there was no stopping him. Other skiers would move off to the side of the runs as Jerry raced by, going faster than any skier had ever gone, while throwing a trail of snow into the air as if a semi had driven by. You could hear people whisper, “Look at the head on that one.”
Jerry had finally found something he was good at. Until his skiing days, Jerry had always thought he would end up as a mascot for some football team or something. Today, whenever people ask why skiers are so big-headed, I tell them they just want to be like Jerry Butler.