Burt Prelutsky

One day, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from the guard at the studio gate, informing me I had a visitor. I went down to see who it was. As I came around the corner of the building, I stopped in my tracks and gawked. Standing 20 feet away, the absolute double of my middle brother, if my brother had a beard, was Jack Prelutsky. What was even more astonishing was that I didn’t resemble my two older brothers, and they didn’t look anything alike. I had brown hair, brown eyes; Ted had black hair, hazel eyes; Ed had blonde hair, blue eyes. And we were all different sizes. We were like some sort of genetic experiment gone haywire.

Anyway, Jack and I had lunch, but neither of us knew enough about our Russian forebears to know if it was our grandfathers or our great-grandfathers who were brothers. We had no further communication until I read last year that he’d been appointed children’s poet laureate of America, and sent him a congratulatory letter. I didn’t hear back. Perhaps he feared I was merely sniffing around, looking to borrow some of that $25,000 that came with the honor.

A few years ago, I received a note from a Russian immigrant who spelled his name Prilutsky. He suggested we meet for coffee at a local diner. We neglected to describe ourselves, but I figured there wouldn’t be too many guys sitting alone, and that the process of elimination wouldn’t be too difficult. I was wrong. When I arrived, there were four or five men seated by themselves. I stood for a bit, looking around, waiting for one of them to call me over. Nobody did. But I was a little early, so it was a safe guess he hadn’t arrived. I took a booth and kept my eye on the entrance. Five minutes later, a fellow walked in, glanced around for two seconds, spotted me, and made a bee-line for my booth.

He introduced himself, we shook hands and I said, “How on earth were you so certain I was me?”

His answer shook me to the core. “Because you look like a Prelutsky.”

As I began picturing the various Prelutskys I knew, my blood ran cold. “You’re saying we all look alike? How can that be? I don’t even look like my brothers.”

He just shook his head impatiently. “Probably far more than you imagine. Take my word for it, all the Prelutskys, no matter if they spell it ‘Pre’ or ‘Pri,’ all come from this one small area in the Ukraine. And, believe me, we all look alike.”

“That’s just great. So what you’re telling me is that we’re all just a bunch of Russian Jewish hillbillies!”

He just shrugged. I guess those long Russian winters can make a person pretty philosophical.

Now do you understand why I was happier when I didn’t know beans about my ancestors?