Among my childhood toys, I cherished none more than my teddy bear. According to the family story, when I was six months old, my mother and grandfather were shopping with me in a department store. As we walked past a display of teddy bears, my mother picked one up and showed it to me. “Look Megan,” my mother said sweetly. With as much fascination as a baby could muster, my wide-eyed awe let her know that I’d fallen under the spell of the fluffy plush toy. Of course, my mother didn’t have the heart to put it back on the shelf. Sale made; favorite toy acquired. Twelve years after Teddy came into my life, the teddy bear was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, an honor I enthusiastically endorse. Throughout my life, Teddy has followed me everywhere. As a young child, I would cuddle him as I drifted off to sleep. As an adolescent, I would give him a comforting squeeze when I was upset. Teddy went on vacations to visit my cousins. Teddy went to college. Even now, Teddy has a place in my life. Every day, as I get ready for work, I look at him sitting on top of my dresser. We’ve been through a lot over the years, and there he sits, threadbare and loved to pieces.
The dramatic high point of my life with Teddy came in my junior year of high school when a fire occurred in my bedroom. I feel doubly fortunate that not only did my family and I walk away unharmed, but a firefighter also saved Teddy from the flames. The firefighter told my mother he knew Teddy was special because he was the only stuffed animal by my bed. As an adult reflecting on this event, I can’t help but be touched by the actions of the firefighter. In the midst of chaos, a complete stranger saved the one and only object in the room that truly had sentimental value to me. I will always be grateful for this act of kindness. However, at the time, I was distraught. I’d lost all of my possessions that fateful night except for Teddy. As a teenager, I couldn’t possibly fathom how life would go on without my favorite Backstreet Boys CD or my favorite blue sweater from American Eagle. I now recognize that I didn’t really need anything else. I rarely even use CDs anymore, and I’ve had countless favorite sweaters over the years. But there was never going to be a replacement for Teddy. I can relate well to stories about other people’s cherished toys. Lauren Sodano, Collections Manager here at The Strong, has a plush toy affectionately named Rocky Raccoon. Lauren received Rocky when she was born and suspects that her father named the toy after the Beatles song. She carried Rocky Raccoon everywhere as a child. Once, when she forgot to bring Rocky to a sleepover party an hour from home, her mother had to trek back to deliver the beloved plush toy to her. Like Teddy, Rocky Raccoon has the look of a much-loved toy. He’s missing an eye because Lauren’s brother threw him against a wall, and he’s threadbare because Lauren pulled on the fur as a child. And when it comes to favorite toys, I can’t overlook Mabel, the beloved doll of the museum’s founder, Margaret Woodbury Strong. Mabel accompanied Margaret on all of her childhood travels before settling into an honored position in her enormous doll collection. As a testament to the cherished status of this special doll, Mabel’s wig was crafted from Margaret’s own hair and Mabel’s heart-shaped pendant is engraved with the initials of her owner. Today, Mabel receives the attention of thousands of guests every year to the second floor, where she can be found alongside other treasured dolls at the National Museum of Play. Each of those guests probably has memories of a favorite toy. Do you? We’d love to hear your story.