What’s New, Pussycat? Unsolved Christmas Mysteries, Whoa-oh oh oh!

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First came the clown.

I found him, a colorful, smiling glass-clown ornament, standing 8 inches tall in some bushes in front of my house. It was Christmas Eve. I brought him inside the house. I laughed when I saw him, a right jolly little clown. What an adorable Christmas Eve mystery gift. I love my new neighborhood.

I could think of a few people who’d pull a little prank like that on me. Friend and now-neighbor Matt Grigsby is on the top of my guess list, followed by Frank Treadway, followed by Chris Carter.

Harmless fun.

For me and my sisters, Shelly and Bethany, Christmas Eve would be our Christmas. That’s why we hosted our Christmas dinner at my new/old house on Christmas Eve.

The menu was roasted lamb, Shelly’s roasted potatoes, daughter-in-law Kat’s winter salad that featured pear, avocado, pomegranate seeds and Gorgonzola cheese, my popovers and cranberry sauce, and Bethany’s Marion berry pie. To top it off, we had baked Alaska.

We turned out the lights. I warmed some brandy, ignited it, and poured the liquid flames over the baked Alaska. Austin declared it the best “cake” he’d ever had. He may have been influenced by the mint chip ice cream inside. Or maybe it was the brandy on the outside. Either way, it was pretty tasty.

Following dinner the kids cuddled with their pregnant Auntie Saeri and tried to coax their unborn cousin into moving by talking to Saeri’s belly and shining flashlights on it.

The kids were fascinated by their Auntie Saeri’s pregnant belly.

Then it was time to unwrap gifts. Some of the biggest hits were the hawk feathers that Aunt Bethany put on the kids’ gifts; a brightly colored cyclamen plant for each child.

Four-year-old Reagan performed a trance-like improv song, swaying, with eyes nearly closed, that lasted about seventy minutes. The song included such repeated lyrics as, “we broke it; we fixed it,” which, for anyone who knows my granddaughter, will make sense.

Meanwhile, 7-year-old Austin wildly scribbled down the words to a song he was “too shy” to perform without covering his eyes.

Doni’s grandson is fixated on this song after seeing a YouTube of Tom Jones performing it.

Yes, Austin’s parents can blame Noni Doni for their son’s fixation on this song. It started because I often say, when I pick him up from school, “What’s new, pussycat?” One day Austin asked why I asked, “What’s new, pussycat?” I told him about Tom Jones, and how my kid sister had crush on the guy many, many, many years ago, but at the time she even had a Tom Jones album.

First came the explanation of the word “album” and then a description of Tom Jones. Austin asked if we could Google Tom Jones singing the pussycat song when we got to my house. Sure. How bad could it be?

This bad.

My grandson may never be the same.

But I digress. Back to Christmas Eve. Soon, all the gifts were opened and it was time for the kids to get home to be ready for Santa the next day.

We three sisters and my daughter stayed up late talking, eating and drinking. At about 12:50 a.m. the chime sounded from my front door Ring security system. That sound could mean only one thing: someone was on my porch. We heard scraping outside, which I suspected was someone trying to steal Christmas decorations. As my sisters tried to peek through the blinds, I said I was going to open the door.

For the record, I would not have felt that brave had I been alone. I felt emboldened by our strength in numbers.

“DON’T open the door!” shouted my sisters.

Outside we heard the sound of a poorly played bugle. That was it. I flung the door open. Nobody was there. I ran down the front steps and saw the red tail lights of a car in front of my neighbor’s house. The car sped off. My sisters joined me outside. We looked around, puzzled. My younger sister pointed to the door mat.

“What’s that?”

It was a russet potato with the number 1962 written on it.

Potato 1962 left on Doni’s doorstep

We felt rattled. It didn’t feel funny. It felt creepy. First the clown. Now the potato delivered by a guy in a Santa hat.

It made me wonder about my new neighborhood.

See and hear for yourself.

I told my sisters that the clown was different, that he’d made me laugh. Sister Shelly pointed out that that was the clown’s job; to make me laugh.

I posted the video and incident of the porch-potato drop-off on Nextdoor.com (apparently multiple times — accidentally — because I posted it from my phone … sincere and profuse apologies to those who were bothered by the repeated posts).

My daughter Googled “potato” and “1962” and came up with this.

The Nextdoor folks (those who weren’t upset about my multiple posts) had their theories.

Stephanie G.: So strange! Is it a big enough potato to make a small potato salad?

A tiny potato salad … yes.

Mark I.: Maybe he’s a fan of the song that came out in 1962……. “Mashed Potato Time” is a single written and composed by Barry Mann and Bernie Lowe, and performed by Dee Dee Sharp.

My daughter would agree.

Brandon L.: Apparently it’s a thing people do. Google “potato on doorstep”. I guess it’s an Irish thing.

I did Google it. I didn’t find anything definitive. However, I did find a creepy story about a near-kidnapping, and I learned the definition of a porch potato (someone who rings the doorbell, stands there, and doesn’t get a clue that the person inside doesn’t want to answer the door, so he rings the doorbell again).

I posted it on Facebook, too, where I got a variety of responses.

Son Joe in the Czech Republic said it was awesome, and that I shouldn’t feel freaked. He posted this.

Bruce R: Wow! Relevance to that year?

No significance. I was 6.

Nita C.: Strange, but could be fun guessing what this weird gift means. Merry Christmas!

Deborah S.: So weird! And kind of funny, except maybe creepy, but in full daylight here in Scotland it is more funny than creepy. I wonder if you’ll ever find out what it was about?

Lusius P. This spud is for you?

Denise O.: Guy has an off sense of humor? Has to mean something, at least to him.

Darcie G: My guess is someone is in town visiting family and they didn’t know the house sold. In 1962 they were teenagers and the potato was meaningful in their prank. Maybe it is an annual tradition – you will have to wait to next year to find out. Not creepy.

Laura G.: An Irish tradition from a secret admirer. At least that’s what a lot of forums say. If 1962 doesn’t mean anything to you, I would agree with Darcie.

Melissa P.F.: A couple of people on Redding Crime said that they woke up to a bucket outside their door and another person said that they found a screw driver. I looked outside, nothing exciting ever happens to me.
Merry Christmas! 

We did have a merry Christmas. After the potato incident, my sisters left. I stayed up a little longer and I talked with my youngest son in the Czech Republic via Hangouts, which was especially meaningful because he was in his mother-in-law’s kitchen, where Eva was busy preparing lunch, and she stopped, waved and said hello. We all slept in on Christmas day. We made ourselves a big breakfast, went for a long walk, then visited our favorite 96-year-old, Sue Economou, who, by the way, loves receiving cards for any occasion. (Sue Economou, c/o The Vistas, 3030 Heritagetown Dr, Redding, CA 96002.)

Sisters Doni, Bethany and Shelly visit with Sue Economou.

Later, we ate Christmas Eve leftovers and finished the night playing board games and drinking adult beverages.

All the while, though we were poised in case the Ring chimed, because this time, we agreed we wouldn’t hesitate to open the door immediately.

But really, we were glad we weren’t tested. We’d had enough excitement for one Christmas.

Maybe next year. Send in the clowns. Bring on the potatoes. We’ll be ready. Whoa oh oh oh oh!

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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29 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    And the hits just keep on comin’! Clowns, potatoes, Christmas, family, bun in the oven, great food, adult beverages, and a long walk. Memorable. By the by, we had lamb, too, but with creamed peas and tiny onions, and farro along with a not-too-sweet rose. Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert.

  2. Avatar Tim says:

    Am I the only one who finds the clown more scary than the potato?

  3. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Here’s my favorite online forum explanation for potatoes left on porches:

    “This can be a good or a bad omen, depending on how you’ve been treating the fickle veggie lately and on whose myths you believe. In Celtic lore, where the potato is worshipped as the goddess of fertility, the appearance of a potato on the threshold usually means a baby was on the way. Normally this was a good omen, but maybe not for you. (I wouldn’t be too happy about it!) However, to the barbarian Germanic tribesman, to slight the potato was to invite the wrath of the “Uber Tuber,” whose vengence could cause everything from famines to defeat in battle. A potato in your path was a sure sign of bad things to come. Either way, it doesn’t look so good. I’d build a shrine pronto and start burning candles to that potato tonight!! Pray for forgiveness for ever having eaten mashed, hashed, baked, fried, stuffed, boiled or roasted potatoes. And just to cover your ass, I’d put another potato on your neighbors doorstep to confuse the Celtic fertility god. I’m sure the last thing you want is a wailing babe to suddenly appear where the potato was.” —Gigivida

    Alas, potatoes didn’t make their way from South America to Europe until the mid-16th century, so the “ancient Celtic tradition” story doesn’t really fly.

    • Leave it to you to dig deeper and find an explanation. Uber Tuber or an ancient Celtic tradition. Thank you.

      Well, my daughter IS pregnant. Maybe that will satisfy the goddess of fertility. But your suggestion of putting the potato on a neighbor’s porch to confuse the Celtic fertility god is a good one.

  4. Avatar Sue says:

    As a fellow ring.com owner, it appears as if the person knew you had it! He sure kept his face hidden. I hope you don’t get a potato for Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, …… I have a feeling next Christmas Eve is a absolute given!

    • Yes, I think you’re correct; that he knew there was a camera and tried to hide his face. I’ll keep you posted regarding new potato deliveries.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I don’t know. It looks like he’s making no effort to hide his face as he approaches. It appears that the motion detector doesn’t turn on the light until he bends down to place the potato. When he turns to run off, it’s pretty obvious he has a beard.

      I can’t believe a guy in a Santa hat who takes the time to announce his presence with a bugle call (clearly not an instrument he’s mastered) harbors any malice. I have a feeling he’ll not be revealing his identity or the answer to the potato riddle, though.

  5. Avatar conservative says:

    A front porch security camera might be a good idea. The USPS delivered my blood pressure pills to the front porch mailbox. I saw the parcel sticking up in the mailbox when I let the dog out at 5 am. (I was barefoot and did not want to take the one step on concrete when the temperature was 13F) At 5:30 after I put on Tevas, the package was gone.

    Humana online pharmacy wants to charge me hundreds of dollars to replace the shipment. USPS inspectors took the report, but were of no use to me.

    Parcel piracy is on the rise. I am going to get a mail and parcel slot in the garage door.

    • Avatar conservative says:

      The dog and I took a walk around the neighborhood. Saw two Amazon packages on porches. What a temptation. One house had a mail slot in the garage door. A slot in the wall next to the garage door would look better, but the space between studs is 14.5 inches, too small for many Amazon packages. The USPS website says a mail slot has to be at least 30 inches above the ground. It gives a minimum, but not a maximum opening.

      When I lived in Shasta county a tweaker with very small forearms was seen with her forearm in a mailbox slot.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      We’ve had a Post Office Box all the years we’ve lived in Eastern County. Yep, there’s a fee, but I’m very willing to pay it for the security. When I worked at the school district, some of the little darlings thought it was just swell to drive around searching for cluster boxes which they then mangled with baseball bats. And all it takes is a Makita to drill out the lock on the backs of those cluster boxes, and Christmas come early! because the contents of every box is available for the stealing.

  6. Avatar cheyenne says:

    With potatoes being mentioned I have to announce that the University of Wyoming won last weeks Famous Potato Bowl played in Idaho.

  7. Avatar Eleanor says:

    Hmmm. Looking for clues. Well, that surely is a poorly played bugle! The guy’s wearing a Santa hat, which should indicate goodwill. He also has an ungainly running style. The 6 and the 2 on the potato look weird, like mirror images, and is that a heart at the top of the 2?? Maybe it’s a friendly but shy and uncoordinated admirer with a tin ear? But so many could fit that description! Dang!
    It cannot go unsaid that the old videos are just brilliant. What’s New Pussycat – well, what else is there to say, really? And thank you for the reminder that, yes, I used to dance the Mashed Potato, but I cannot for the life of me remember why. Woah, woah, woah, woah.

    • You could be a detective, Eleanor. I did notice he had a sort of herky jerky running style. And the writing in the potato reminded me of European-style printing.

      I can totally picture you dancing the Mashed Potato, Eleanor!

      The old Mashed Potato video, I kept looking at the young women who were dancing and realizing that they are probably well into their 70s or even 80s now.

  8. Avatar Joanne says:

    Gee Doni, your neighbor hood is more exciting then mine.

  9. Avatar K. Beck says:

    Since you were watching the Tom Jones video with 7-year-old Austin you were fortunate to have chosen a video where women in the audience were not throwing their underpants on stage!…you might have had some ‘splaining to do!

    • Actually, I watched a short documentary about Tom Jones, and there were examples of womens’ underwear thrown on stage; many of them with embroidered messages and phone numbers.

      Mr. Jones had his own rituals, such as wearing pants as tight as possible, and he went commando. He was a pretty racy guy. (He’s still performing and going strong, btw.)

  10. Avatar Joanne Snyder says:

    This whole story really creep me out. Not the part about you and your wonderful family! I loved that part. The clown and the potato….too weird. Don’t open the door. A normal adult would realize that these pranks aren’t funny.
    I figured out where you live (because I like a good puzzle) despite the fact that you’ve never, as far as I know, published a picture of your house with the house numbers. So these acts are random, or they’re done by one of the few people who knows where you live.

    • You’re right that I’ve not published a photo of my house with the house numbers, but it’s pretty much an open secret now. I periodically see cars drive by my house veeeeery slowly, and I figure they’re driven by curious people who’ve solved the mystery.

      Honestly, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m putting it in the harmless category.

  11. Avatar Joanne Snyder says:

    A normal adult realize that the world isn’t the same for men and women. A man argued with me that there’s no problem walking anywhere in the L.A. by yourself. Good for you. It didn’t work for me.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      A band from my college days called Missing Persons had a hit called “Walking in LA.” The chorus included the line “Nobody walks in L.A.”

      Then there’s the song “Walkin’ in L.A.” from Steve Earle’s latest album.

      “When you’re walkin’ in LA
      Everybody knows that you’re down
      Nobody walks any other way in this lonesome town
      Nothin’ separatin’ you and the street
      But a dollar and the shoes on your feet
      When you’re walkin’ in LA
      When you’re walkin’ in LA
      When you’re walkin’ in LA”

    • I think you’re correct; that men and women experience the world differently. Two days a week I walk a few blocks in my neighborhood — in the dark, wearing a headlamp, carrying pepper spray — to meet up with one of my fellow Aligners so we can walk down Placer to our workout place on the corner of Placer and Oregon. I always feel so much more at ease when I reach his house, and we’re walking together.

      • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

        Safety in numbers and all that, but it’s true. Glad you have a walking buddy, especially a guy buddy. Instead of having a finger on the pulse of Redding, it’s mo’ bettah to have your finger on the pepper spray button. Or the trigger of your .380 (sorry, Steve.)

  12. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    I can solve one of the mysteries: as you already suspected, the clown was me. I mean…I brought the clown.

    Someone had given him to me on a gift bag, and when I came to your house just before Christmas, my intention was to hang him up somewhere. However, the house was buzzing with people, so on impulse I placed him in the bushes in the front yard. I never would have done that if I had know the Potato Bandit was going to add a level of weirdness to the season!

    So the clown is safe, harmless and has no bad ju-ju to impart. He’s apparently not much of a watch dog though.

  13. Avatar conservative says:

    One of the best things about having a woman in your life is watching the sisters cooking together, laughing and talking. Brothers aren’t often that close. Many parent and adult children can barely stand each other.

    The happiest I ever saw my ex- was when she and her sister enjoyed Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer family campouts. One tradition was spending hours putting together one of those very large jigsaw puzzles. Making brioche dough on Christmas eve and baking it on Christmas morning, one of my favorite smell memories.