A love note to stuffed animals

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I’m not just talking about teddy bears. I’m talking about Mogwai, Ewoks and impressing the ladies.

So simple yet so loved

Stuffed animals could very well be the most primal toy. Next to a good old fashioned stick, no other toy is seemingly enjoyed by so many people across so many generations. I find it somewhat amazing that in a world of technology and gizmos that a plush toy can still be the best thing ever. Much like video games, simple is often better and because of that, a stuffed animal can still be a thing of endless charm and imagination.

Even though I grew up in an age of action figures and awesome D-battery toys, I had my share of stuffed animals and plush toys. I’m sure I had dozens upon dozens of stuffed animals as I grew up, but I only remember a few of them and then mostly only because I have photos of me as a child with them. It’s amazing what a picture will do to jog your memory. However, I do remember one stuffed animal that I loved and the story that goes with it, and that animal was Huckleberry Hound.

Stuffed with memories

Huckleberry Hound

Not the same one I had, but close.

Yes, Huckleberry Hound, the blue, slow-talking, Clementine-singing cartoon hound dog with a long Southern drawl that was most famous between 1958 and 1961. No, I’m not that old but thanks to reruns and syndication, I was able to enjoy Huckleberry Hound along with Quick Draw McGraw, Secret Squirrel and others, so I knew who Huck was, but it’s not like he was one of my all-time favorites or anything. However, he was better than Yogi Bear, or at least he was to me.

One summer my family took a trip to King’s Island near Cincinnati, the same amusement park once visited by The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and even Evel Knievel. At the time, King’s Island had a kiddie section of the park called Hanna-Barbera Land, which was filled with rides and mascots from all the classic cartoons. Naturally, all the merchandise and toys being sold there was from the cartoons, and like every kid there that day I wanted a toy. Usually my parents weren’t ones to give in to over-priced theme park souvenirs, but apparently they felt differently this trip as they let me pick out something from the gift shop, and that something was Huckleberry Hound.

Even though Huck didn’t talk or light up or do anything real fancy compared to my other toys, I loved him to death. He was my buddy for what felt like years, even though it was probably only a couple months following our trip. I didn’t love him just because he was a big plush with a cool bow tie and awesome hat, I loved him because he was a special present from my folks. The memories certainly outlast his stitching. I think he eventually lost his bow tie but he never lost his hat. I’m not sure what happened to my Huckleberry Hound plush. My hope is that he ended up in an attic somewhere rather than in the trash or donation bin. Maybe one day I’ll rescue him.

Cheap, stuffed love

One unique trait about stuffed animals is their association with amusement parks, fairs and carnivals. I got my Huckleberry Hound at an amusement park and who knows how many plush toys I won over the years playing cheap games of skill at locations all around the midwest. We all know stuffed animals are insanely cheap, especially if they’re not licensed, and that’s why all these carnies have them as prizes, but yet we’ll spend four, five, even ten times their worth for no other reason than to give them away as a gift.

I remember another visit to an amusement park on a elementary school trip, this time at Cedar Point, I spent who knows how much money on a game in effort to win a stuffed bear to give to a girl I had a crush on (it worked). It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to impress the pretty girl or lure in the cute guy, a plush toy will always do the trick. You can’t do that with a pop gun or baby doll. The emotion we associate with stuffed animals is fascinating and clearly timeless.

The best things aren’t always purchased

Ewok Stuffed Animal

You call that an Ewok? My mom is laughing.

As I mentioned, my parents weren’t keen on buying me over-priced toys whether they be action figures, cars or stuffed animals. However, when it came to stuffed animals I had a distinct advantage over a lot of my friends – my mother could sew. Along with your typical clothes and blankets, my mother made me a couple of stuffed toys that were by far some of my most cherished plush toys ever.

If you’ve read some of my previous articles, then you know I was a Star Wars kid, and I wanted a stuffed Ewok just as much as I wanted the Millennium Falcon playset. I got neither, but mom made up for it best she could by making me my own Ewok, and I can safely say it was better than any one I could have gotten from a toy store. For one, my custom Ewok was huge, near as a tall as I was at the time and he was crafted out of the finest yellow polyester fur you could find. He had jointed legs and arms so he could sit down and grab around my neck during play time. He also had the trademark hood that I could take on and off as much as I wanted. My Ework might not have been as detailed in the face as the retail version but its playability was off the charts and I can tell you he was well loved and beat up extensively, far more than Huckleberry Hound.

As if a custom Ework wasn’t enough to make my friends jealous, my mom also managed to make me my own custom Cabbage Patch Kid as well. I don’t ever recall wanting a Cabbage Patch Kid, but as popular as they were I’m thinking my mom just wanted me to have one so I could hang out with the rest of the cool kids. So while other parents were getting trampled at Children’s Palace looking for these things, my mom just bought a plastic head that looked very similar to a CPK and made the stuffed body herself. She also crafted some clothes for the doll because, after all, you can’t have a naked doll. My mothered fashioned a flannel shirt and some little jeans for the thing…and how disgusting is this? They coordinated with the real clothes I wore! God bless mothers.

Growing up plush

Stuffed animals are some of the first toys we ever have as infants and through our early childhoods, but that’s not where the love and affection stops. As adults we might not drag our stuffed toys around like security blankets anymore, but I know we all have some stuffed animals on our shelves that put a smile on our face. In some cases we’ll buy new versions of stuffed animals we had as a kid for the nostalgia alone. At other times we’ll buy stuffed animals because they’re the ones we never had as a kid, which was the case a couple years ago when I got a plush Gizmo from “Gremlins”. And I can’t even count the number of Star Wars plush toys I’ve acquired over the past 15 years, everything from Yoda to Chewbacca to Lando and then some…however, I’m still waiting for them to release a stuffed Lobot.

Gizmo stuffed animal

How can you not find that addorable?

Why do I still buy stuffed animals? It’s not just because they’re licensed from my favorite movies, it’s because plush toys are just…well…they’re just harmless. They’re cute, they’re cheap and they look as good sitting on your shelf as they do being hugged by a kid, and they bring joy in both cases. I have loving memories of GI Joe but not Barbie as my wife might, however, we both have stories about our long lost and well-loved stuffed animals. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, a kid or an adult, everyone can still appreciate the memories and emotions associated with a good stuffed animal.

What stuffed animals memories do you still cherish?

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About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at RedlineDerby.com while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for not only sharing your perspective, but also some of your fondest memories of stuffed toys. I’m nearly 30, and despite being told not to, I will often get plush of my fave characters. My first ever was a bootleg Care Bear plush (Love-a-lot Bear) that my great-great aunt gave me when I was born. I still have her; she held out pretty well though she needs a good wash.

    Nowadays, my focus is primarily on characters I have adored since childhood, as well as Pokemon. I acquired many I have wanted since I was a little girl in different ways; one of them is a custom made plush, the rest were found on eBay, including the Banana Splits and the next purchase I am making, which happens to be Huckleberry Hound. I suffer from a few mental illnesses including Social Anxiety, so I tend to take a plush with me to places to hug should I feel worse. Nobody has told me to put them away, they see why I need them and how hugging one helps me. So, while I slept with my plush at night as a kid, nowadays they bring me comfort still, and I am so thankful. The bonus to them being of characters I love is that in a sense, it’s that very character comforting me, a common thought I entertained in my youth whenever I felt alone. To me, they’re not just toys…they’re like special friends and I am so thankful for them.

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