Letter to my Grandchildren: Cat Warfare…Peter the Great and A Delicious Cat

     Peter the Great                                              Furry  Yury

Dear Kids,

Boy, is it cold out this morning, you can really tell that summer is over for good.  We still have a lot of green leaves on our trees, but many of the trees in the neighborhood are already quite golden.  My neighbor across the street is having three really big trees cut down today.

Do you know who was as big as a tree? Peter the Great, who was born in 1672, ruled Russia as tsar or emperor from 1682 until 1725.  A tsar is the Russian word for king.  There were many things that made this guy exceptional.  Royalty or not, Peter stood head and shoulders above everyone because he was almost seven feet tall at a time when the average man was only five feet, seven inches tall. That is almost half a foot taller than Grandpa Doug, or the size of Abraham Lincoln with his stove pipe hat on.   Peter’s feet and hands were small, he had narrow shoulders and a small head for his size.  He was considered handsome by the ladies.  He also suffered from severe headaches and seizures which greatly embarrassed him.

Peter the Great, like French King Louis the XIV, witnessed and escaped dying in a violent political revolt when he was a boy about your age.  Both rulers were greatly affected by those experiences and as a result were very unforgiving of those who led or participated in government revolts.   While they both executed their fair share of rebels, Peter the Great, was much more of a hands on killer and swung the sword that cut off the heads of his enemies himself.  In fact, his oldest son, as ordered by his father, was convicted, tortured and only escaped execution by dying in prison first.  Your dad doesn’t look so bad now, does he?

Peter executed quite a few people during his reign.  He once chopped the head off of his wife’s boyfriend, pickled it in a jar and made her keep it by her bed as a reminder that he did not like what she had done. Aren’t you glad your dad just cans vegetables and apples?

While it was not all right for his wife to have boyfriends, Peter enjoyed having plenty of girlfriends when he was married.  However, he expected this girlfriends to follow his rules and actually executed one of them.  Her name was Mary Hamilton and being a guy who really valued education, Peter took the opportunity to show the crowd attending the execution the vertebrae, windpipe and carotid arteries of his lover’s severed head.

His love of education and progress is what made him Peter…The…Great.  At the beginning of his reign Russia was a backwards, weak, uneducated country.  Peter worked his whole life to reform Russia’s borders, government, church, schools and society.  He replaced many old traditions with new ideas that were modern, scientific and that copied the progressive governments of Western Europe like France, Britain and the Netherlands.  Peter ended Russian’s system of education by the church and established the first public schools.

Peter made Russia a world power.  He went to battle to expand his country’s borders and gave his land locked country access to several seas expanding their ability to make war and extend trade. Peter loved anything to do with boats and sailing.  He studied shipbuilding in the Netherlands, hired some of Europe’s best craftsmen and built Russia’s first navy. On September 12, 1698, Peter officially founded the first Russian Navy base, Taganrog, on the Black Sea.

In what was once a swamp, he built the city of St. Petersburg and made it Russia’s new capitol. The best builders and architects in the world were hired to ensure that St. Petersburg was a very modern city whose beauty, elegance and extravagance rivaled the famous palaces of the French.

During his travels in Europe, Peter admired French fashion and cleanly shaved faces.  He insisted that the Russian’s get rid of their old clothes and wear new more fashionable attire.  He also ordered Russian men, who all wore long beards at that time, to shave them off.  Those who chose not to, were charged a beard tax. To pay for all of his palace, navy and society building Peter raised a lot of taxes.  His royal highness’ high taxes led to more revolts among citizens, which were immediately stopped by brutal and violent armed force followed by more mass executions

Peter liked to collect things…palaces, jewels, art, ladies and dwarfs.  Yes, this very tall ruler collected really short people like kids collect Pokémon cards.  He loved having them around all the time and was even known to have naked ones jump out of giant pies for his amusement.  He bought them miniature ponies to ride and even hosted an all dwarf wedding.

In addition to collecting dwarfs, Peter the Great collected very expensive and beautiful artwork.  The paintings, statues and jewelry he purchased are still in Russia today and are kept one of the world’s largest museums called, “The Hermitage.”  That is also what President Andrew Jackson called his plantation, but that is another story.

In addition to its vast art collection The Hermitage, which used to be a royal palace, is home to an army of cats.  Peter the Great’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth, became disgusted with the hundreds of rodents roaming the palace chewing on everything and spreading disease.  She issued an order for the best rat and mouse catching cats in all of Russia to be sent to her.  This cat army commanded by Furry Yury patrolled and kept Russia’s art treasures safe from gnawing mice and rats for over 200 years.

These art security cats survived many human generations, revolutions and wars, but died out during World War II when the Nazi’s surrounded and laid siege to the city of St. Petersburg, which had been renamed Leningrad during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Over four million Russia defenders and civilians died during the siege and battles for the city.  Food ran out and many Russian’s died of starvation. Those that survived remember eating mice, rats and cats.  One girl recalled how her mother wanted to fix her grandmother’s cat for supper and the grandmother responded, “Do you want to kill my cat?”  The girl’s mother replied, “Do you want to kill your grandchildren?”  She said that cat meat was much more delicious than when they ate their father’s leather belts.

I hope and pray that neither or you or I will ever be that hungry.  It is important to remember to pray for those who are that hungry. Yes, children in many parts of the world still die every day from not having enough food to eat. That is why we shouldn’t waste food and should thank God with a table prayer before we eat for the blessing of having food.

Have a great week in school.  Be sure to practice your clarinet a lot and loud! I know your dad did.  I sent you a book of Christmas songs for clarinet players.  You should receive it next week.

Lots of Love and Hugs,

Grandma Pat

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