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

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 A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's 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's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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