Amazing and uniquely memorable experiences — not toys — are the gifts my little brother and his wife give for gifts. For their five young grandchildren, last December, they each received a wrapped gift box which held a stuffed elephant … and a note. They got all excited about the stuffed toy, but when the note was read, their joyful shouts told the real story.

The messages contained information inviting them to a July date and time reserved for the entire gang to attend an Elephant Encounter in a neighboring state. These events allow visitors to bathe, feed, and even ride the majestic creatures if they so desire at Wilstem Ranch, sitting atop more than 1,000 acres. They also offer lodging, hiking, and horseback riding like ranches typically do.

You can attend only for the basic educational seminar where you can learn about them, watch them do cute tricks, ask questions, and pet them. This Christmas gift to their grandchildren included much more.

As the time approached, they grew more excited as they learned more about the experience. They made plans to drive to the ranch in Paoli, Indiana. They rented a large farm house for accommodations, because there were literally no motels in the remote area.

Traveling down Route 66 near Anderson, Indiana, an enormous neon billboard caught their eye. Its advertisement read, “Welcome to Uranus”. “The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus!”

Knowing little brother’s twisted sense of humor, we all knew he couldn’t resist checking it out. The candy was amazing, especially the gigantic malted milk balls. They actually have another location near St. Robert, Missouri.

The Uranus Fudge Factory sold lots of souvenirs advertising their unique name and products. We’re still laughing about it and his private performance as a radio announcer. Meanwhile, back to the actual Encounter.

After a relaxing dinner, the excitement was palpable as they tried to contain themselves and still drift off to slumber.

Following a quick breakfast, they headed out for their turn at the Encounter. Actually, choices included a giraffe or an elephant.

Upon arrival, there were several other families present. The guide was very knowledgeable and they learned a lot about pachyderms, noting that they are one of the most intelligent species.

Each family group was introduced to the two female elephants to receive instructions regarding the process. These two, Cindy and Vicki, ages fifty-six and fifty-eight, were semi-retired from Barnum and Bailey Circus, headquartered near St. Louis, Missouri.

Twice a day, they receive the royal treatment. As enormous as they are, they were extremely gentle even with the two-year-old in tow. Given buckets and long handled brushes to wash each side of an elephant, about fifteen people were involved simultaneously per pachyderm. They scrubbed them quite thoroughly with the adults reaching the high spots. Next, they rinsed them. Everyone was delighted as the ladies helped rinse themselves with their trunks, loving their spa time.

Once thoroughly cleaned, they gave them pedicures and rubbed their toenails with an antifungal ointment. They have five toenails in the front and four on the back of each foot which can be up to four feet in circumference. Even the smallest child got into this chore with the gentle giants adoring every minute of the luxurious routine.

Elephants have favorite foods, just as we do. These two just loved watermelon. After positioning it just right with their trunks, they then crushed them with a front foot. After eating the chunks and all they could salvage, the elephants themselves mixed straw/hay in the juice left behind and ate it so that they didn’t lose a single drop of the sweet nectar.

The kids were all excited, but none were afraid despite the enormity of the creatures. They are very social animals and love any contact with humans. Their love for their trainer was obvious.

The kids were also able to visit with the giraffes and learned many interesting details about each animal on the ranch.

While there, the whole family, as well as a young woman participating in her own Elephant Encounter, was a bit surprised. Apparently, the young woman adored elephants, because she wore a dress with elephants all over it and earrings to match. Her young man certainly knew her well, and they have a rather unique story to rehearse to their posterity.

The surprise came when he got down on one knee, reached deep into his pocket, produced a ring, and proposed to his gal right in front of everyone. The elephants expressed surprise and pleasure, too.

If you want to create a lifetime memory with your loved ones, check this place out. And don’t forget to check out the best fudge and other sweets from Uranus while on your way.

A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, Hill currently lives in rural Athens. She describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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