Think about a pleasant memory you have of your grandparents. I’m guessing it isn’t opening a Christmas or birthday gift from them, but it’s a fun experience you shared. That was my hope when I set out to spend a weekend with my daughter and young grandsons.
When I learned there was a dude ranch in Mauston, only 20 miles from the Dells, my jaw dropped. After I made the reservation, I kept wondering how someone who loved horses hadn’t known about this incredible place. I quizzed locals and found out many of them didn’t know as well.
My daughter had moved all the way to Idaho one summer to work at a dude ranch for horse-lovers wanting a fun getaway. She said if she’d known about Woodside Ranch, she would have simply applied there.
We opened the door to our cozy cabin tucked into the woods and breathed in the homey smell of wood smoke. Guests had built fires in this fieldstone fireplace for over 100 years. We learned that Woodside Ranch is the oldest dude ranch in the nation!
Grandson Glen Sherry tried on the black cowboy hat I’d brought, the same one his mother had worn thirty years ago when I took her for riding lessons at Bev Gaedke’s ranch on Highway 23. Feeling a twinge of nostalgia for those days, I made sure I had my phone for pictures and we excitedly headed to the horses. Glen, who will tell you he’s not eight but eight and a half, got a short, private lesson and then put his foot tentatively in the stirrup and swung his leg over. He and my daughter headed off on Glen’s first trail ride.
Six-year-old Benjamin chose Thunder for his pony ride. He settled into the saddle and as the ponies walked around in the pony wheel, he looked my way, a twinkle in his eyes, and lifted his hands showing me he could ride no-handed.
I told myself to store that twinkle in my memory bank. At future milestone moments when it reappears—his winning the big soccer match, high school graduation, announcing his engagement—I’ll want to add it to my Benjamin memories.
We had time for an archery lesson and cooling off in the pool before meeting new friends in the dining hall for a genuine Wisconsin fish fry. A ranch like this is a great place to mingle with people of different walks of life. We visited with guests who had driven long distances and others who were returning guests. One man was there with his wife, two daughters, and their boyfriends. He had come to the ranch as a youngster and was now delighted to return with his growing family.
As my grandsons roasted marshmallows for s’mores later that night, tossed a ball for an energetic dog, and mingled with the others sitting around the campfire, I got a warm, gooey feeling. People weren’t looking at their phones but at one another’s chocolate-smeared faces. A delicious addition for my memory bank.
Over the weekend, I watched my grandsons grow from being unsure about horses to giggling while bouncing on their backs at the trot. I also had precious moments with my busy daughter. Our early morning talks around the fireplace, with our steaming coffee cups in hand, are also stored in my memory bank.
On our final day, I filled my memory bank with a young goat nibbling on Benjamin’s jacket, a kickball game where we all made home runs, and petting and feeding animals such as a comical llama. I soak it all in. My grandsons will soon be too busy with best buddies, sports, and other interests to spend time with Grammy. There’s only that brief window when they’ll cuddle next to you around a cozy fireplace.
When Glen spontaneously hugged me and said, “Thank you, Grammy. I love you,” I hugged him back, squeezing one more moment into my bursting memory bank.