Calling all Turlock residents: Have you seen Ernie?
A Portland woman is holding out hope that someone here in town as seen her stuffed pal and will help him get back home soon.
Annie Bunnie, a fashion designer in Portland, Oregon had travelled to Turlock to pick up a camper. Joining her was her long-time travel companion Ernie, from the Bert and Ernie duo. Whenever Bunnie hit the road, Ernie was along with her, helping document her journeys. But somehow, Ernie missed the return trip home.
“He started traveling with me, getting his photo snapped the same way every time — popping up from the bottom corner of the photograph,” Bunnie said. “It became a fun little game, where would Ernie travel next? What adventures would he get in to?”
Like a lot of other people, Bunnie grew up watching “Sesame Street” and was fond of Ernie’s positivity.
“Something about Ernie always made me happy,” Bunnie said. “He was always humming to himself; he was never afraid to burst into song; he had that infectious laugh and he loved his rubber ducky. He was an optimist, the counterpart to Bert's crotchety attitude. He was my favorite Muppet.
“Something about him triggered a sense of nostalgia in me. During my high school years, I had collected lots of “Sesame Street” stuff — plushies, bedding and some knick-knacks. There never seemed to be much Ernie stuff for sale. It was now an Elmo world with his introduction in the ‘80s. What was an Ernie fan to do?”
It turns out fate would be bringing Ernie into Bunnie’s life through the charitable works of her mother.
“My mom has the biggest giving heart,” Bunnie said. “She would donate her time and energy volunteering at shelters and organizing donation drives at our church for the needy. So, she was always collecting things around the house — boxes of toiletry items, coats for the coat drives, and one day I saw him. She had picked up some stuffed animals and dolls from the thrift store in good condition to donate. His striped shirt was a dead giveaway. There was Ernie among the treasure trove. I asked to have him and we became best buds.”
Over the years Bunnie and Ernie have seen quite a lot of the world together.
“He's been beachcombing in Cancun, sea turtle watching in Akumal, horseback riding through rainbows in Hilo, Hawaii and soaking in the sun in El Nido, Philippines,” Bunnies said. “He was my lucky charm. My reminder of happiness and remembering good times, no matter what. During my travels as a designer, much of which was solo travel, he was my business class buddy. He helped me navigate the night markets of Hong Kong and together we conquered the super kawaii boutiques of Tokyo's Harajuku. I picked up souvenirs and tiny T-shirts meant for teddy bears for him along the way.
“We walked the Bund in Shanghai and snuck a secret photo in China in the customs area of the airport,” Bunnie recalled. “He has traveled top speed on the bullet train to Osaka, sat in white doily taxi cabs of Tokyo, partied hard in Las Vegas, visited the Grand Canyon and lay poolside in Palm Springs.”
Bunnie and Ernie’s next adventure would bring them to Turlock. Bunnie had been looking for a vintage travel trailer and found one for sale online in Turlock, so another road trip was in store.
“I fell in love with the trailer, and I took Ernie's picture in front of it,” Bunnie said. “That was the last picture I ever took of Ernie.”
Bunnie doesn’t remember the street name of where she picked up the trailer. She does remember practicing backing the trailer up in the Big Lots parking lot on Geer Road. That was Sept. 23.
Bunnie made the return trip home, unaware that Ernie was no longer in her company.
“I have mixed emotions about Ernie's AWOL status — part of me feels happy — he knew when he was needed, and now he hit the road to make someone else happy,” Bunnie said. “Maybe I would be surprised one day and he would turn up magically. But I was also sad, decades of memories were now only that — just memories. I felt I at least had to try to get him back.”
With help from a friend, Bunnie took to social media.
“I made an Instagram account @helpfindernie, and a hashtag campaign #findernie,” Bunnie said. “I posted photos of a few of my favorite travels with him. So, if you see him, send me a shout out to @helpfindernie. Or, just post his photo to Instagram wherever he may take you on your new adventure in life. Tag, you're it.”