Lions and tigers and … teddy bears. Oh my!
For many young adults, a plethora of cherished stuffed toys sit perched amongst blankets and pillows, waiting for their owners to return home from college classes, work and other 20-something-ish activities. A commonality amongst the toys who survive the occasional quarter-life crisis at their owners’ side is nostalgia and sentimentality. In Utah, young adults from all across North America recently shared the origin stories of their beloved bears, handmade keepsakes and more.
‘Green Hornet’ Joe Wirthlin, 24 – Troy, Michigan. (Lauren Woolley) “This car is the second-place champion from our Hot Wheels tournament that we did. It was in the middle of COVID on the mission. We had our district together. One of our district members, their mom sent them a Hot Wheels thing and so we set up in the apartment a Hot Wheels track. We raced the cars. There were like 20 different cars. That one was nicknamed The Green Hornet. It got all the way to second place and then it lost. Then in the losers’ bracket it got all the way to first place, then second place again. So it’s the second place winner overall. I still think it should have won first place because the second race wasn’t fair. But that’s besides the point. I had it with me on my mission. During COVID, there were a surprising number of toys that missionaries got, at least in my area. I got a huge box of Lego. Members were like, “You elders are so bored, here’s a box of Lego.” So I built a phone stand so I’d be able to use it for Zoom meetings and this car actually fit right on the inside of it because I’d be able to put my phone vertically and the cord would go in, out the bottom, then out the back, and this would fit in that little slot. It was like a little car garage. I’ve just kept it. It reminds me of my companions and the fun time that we had.” ‘Ponyo’ Morgan Hart, 21 – Draper, Utah. (Lauren Woolley) “His name is Ponyo. I got him in Mexico. That was the first time I’d traveled outside of the country and alone, without my family, just with another girlfriend. It was April 2021. We just decided out of nowhere to go to Mexico, just because! We went to Puerto Vallarta and we went shopping at the mall after we were at the beach all day, and there was this cute Asian toy store and it had all these stuffed animals there. I just picked him out and named him Ponyo after the movie.” ‘Todd’ Kallon Fabina, 20 – Frederick, Maryland. (Lauren Woolley) “This is Todd. I’ve had him for 19, almost 20 years. He was given to me for my first birthday. My favorite movie at the time was “ Fox and the Hound,” so I was horribly attached from day one. It’s just stuck around. It was consistently the stuffed animal of choice. He’s been through a lot. His tail’s been sewn on like four times now. You can see the stitching. I never ripped the tail off! My brother really liked to helicopter him. He’d grab him by the tail and start swinging him like a helicopter and then he’d fly off. The bow tie is actually an old baby head band. He has an honorary associates degree thanks to COVID — I was doing all my classes from my bed.” ‘Chinchilla’ Hailey Westenskow, 21 – Green River, Wyoming. (Lauren Woolley) “My dad, when all of my siblings were born, he got us all a white stuffed animal. So we’ve all got one. They’re our ‘daddy stuffed animals’. My brother’s got a dog, my sister’s got a bear, I’ve got this rabbit. I don’t know what everybody else has. They’re just all white, and the first stuffed animal that we’ve ever had. I was really smart as a kid and I read this book about a chinchilla, so I named this Chinchilla, even though it’s absolutely not, because I didn’t know the difference. So this is Chinchilla even though it’s a rabbit. It’s kind of been chilling on my bed my entire life.” ‘Roxy’ Lydia Hall, 22 – Sandy, Utah. (Lauren Woolley) “Her name is Roxy because she’s a fox, so ‘Roxy the Foxy’ — it rhymes. My sister actually made her for me out of a sweater that I wore on my mission that was like my favorite sweater, but the collar was coming apart, the sleeves were dying. So when I got home she was like, “Oh I can make it into something for you,” and I was like, “Sure!” And then she made me this cute little fox, and she did the little heart that says “te amo” because I served my mission Spanish-speaking, and so she’s like ‘I love you.’ I got home from my mission and then was back in Provo and school two weeks later, so it was nice to have something soft and cuddly.” ‘Bible’ Mackenzie Minaker, 20 – Alberta, Canada. (Lauren Woolley) “I used to come here every summer when I was little. And my grandma took us on this tour of BYU. This bear was in the gift shop. I said that I wanted it and so she bought it for me. We named it ‘Bibble’ instead of ‘Bible’ because it was a BYU bear. I dunno, I was young. Bible, pronounced ‘bibble.’ But now it’s the only stuffed animal that I still have of my grandma who is now deceased. I was probably like 10?” ‘No name’ Tenley Hale, 23 – Santa Maria, California. (Lauren Woolley) “I grew up on a ranch so my mom never let us have stuffed animals because our house was really old and dusty and the stuffed animals would just collect all the dust and we would get allergies and stuff. So as a kid, I never had stuffed animals. Now that I’m an adult I started learning how to crochet and I was like, ‘I’m going to crochet myself a stuffed animal’ because I’ve never had stuffed animals. So I made this to heal my inner child and make myself a stuffed animal. And I love dinosaurs, so I made this! I sleep with it every night. You can ask my husband. It doesn’t have a name — I need to give it a name. It’s really funny though because I made this, and now my dad wants one really bad. So I literally just bought all the yarn to make one for his birthday. And I’m making him a dinosaur.” ‘Apa’ Ariel Harmer, 23 – Bountiful, Utah. (Lauren Woolley) “This is my Apa plush toy that I got for my birthday, probably just like five years ago. My sister gave it to me. Apa is this cute flying bison in this children’s animated TV series that I really liked growing up. So my sister got this for my birthday. I had a ton of stuffed animals growing up. I think I still have them in the basement somewhere for my little cousins to play with. When I sleep I either hold a pillow, or I can hold a pillow pet, otherwise it feels like my back hurts in the morning. I think the stuffed Apa plush is a lot cuter than a pillow.”
Toys in our 20s serve as crucial reminders of our familial roots, our accomplished rites of passage and the challenges we overcome. Whether tucked beside us at night time, or on a dust-clad dormitory shelf, the toys of our 20s are just as important now as they were when we were kids.