In the first-ever issue of The Pioneer Woman Magazine, now available at Walmart, Ree Drummond shares the story of how she and her husband Ladd met. Pick up the debut issue for Ree's great ideas for home, beauty, fashion, food, and lots more!
Forget this, I said to myself as I lay sprawled on the bed in which I grew up. In my Oklahoma hometown on a self-imposed pit stop, I was mired in a papery swamp of study guides, drafts of my résumé, listings of Chicago apartments and a J.Crew catalog from which I'd just ordered a $495 wool coat in olive, not chocolate, because I'm a redhead, and because Chicago winters are a tad more nippy than Los Angeles, which I'd left weeks earlier. I'd been at it all week — searching, editing, shopping — and I was smooth worn out. I needed a break.
I headed down to the J-Bar, a local dive where my friends were meeting for a Christmas-break drink. I'd begged out earlier, but by now a glass of chardonnay seemed not only appealing but necessary. Mandatory. I washed my face, threw on some black mascara, released my hair from its tired ponytail, dabbed on some Carmex and blew out the door. Fifteen minutes later, I was in the company of my old friends and the chardonnay, feeling the contentment of being with people who've known you forever.
That's when I saw him — the cowboy — across the room. He was tall, strong and mysterious, sipping bottled beer and wearing jeans and cowboy boots. And his hair. The stallion's hair was very short and silvery gray — much too gray for how young his face was, but just gray enough to send me through the roof with all sorts of fantasies of Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Gracious, he was a vision, this Marlboro Man–esque character across the room. After a few minutes of staring, I inhaled deeply, then stood up. I needed to see his hands.
I meandered to the section of the bar where he stood. Not wanting to appear obvious, I grabbed four cherries from the condiment tray as I caught a glimpse of his hands. They were big and strong. Bingo.
Within minutes, we were talking.
He was a fourth-generation cattle rancher whose property was more than an hour away. But I knew none of this as I stood before him, trying my best not to look too gazingly into his ice blue – green eyes or, worse, drool all over him. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. We talked into the night. My friends giggled where I'd left them, oblivious to the fact that their redheaded amiga had just been struck by a lightning bolt.
Then this mysterious cowboy announced abruptly that he had to go. Go? I thought. Go where? There's no place on earth but this bar.… But there was for him: He and his brother had plans to cook Christmas turkeys for some folks in his small town. Mmmm. He's nice, too,I thought. "Bye," he said with a gentle smile. And with that, he walked out of the bar. I didn't even know his name. I prayed it wasn't Billy Bob.
I was sure he'd call the next morning. It was a relatively small community; he could find me if he wanted to. But he didn't. Nor did he call that day, or week, or month. Throughout that time, I allowed myself to remember his eyes, his biceps, his quiet manner. Disappointment would wash over me. It didn't matter, I'd tell myself. I was headed to Chicago and a new life. I had zero business getting attached to anyone around here, let alone some Wrangler-wearing cowboy with salt-and-pepper hair.
Living at home with my parents had made me miss city life and start getting serious about Chicago. Based on my brief time at home, I knew that an urban environment was where I belonged. I missed the conveniences, the coffee shops, the take-out galore and the little nail salons where ladies would eagerly swarm me and rub my shoulders in five-minute intervals until I ran out of money. I missed the anonymity of living in a city — the ability to run to the market without running into my third-grade teacher. I missed the nightlife, the culture, the shopping. I missed the restaurants — Thai, Italian, Indian. I needed to get on the ball and move to Chicago. In the months that followed meeting the cowboy who turned my soul to mush, I continued to make preparations to move. While I'd occasionally find myself haunted by the rugged Marlboro Man character I'd met in the J-Bar, I continued to tell myself it was a good thing he'd never called. I didn't need anything derailing my resolve to get back to civilization. Back where normal people live.
I decided to stick close to home through my oldest brother Doug's wedding in the spring and leave for Chicago a couple weeks after that. I'd always intended for my time at home to be a pit stop, anyway; before too long, Chicago would be my new home. The weekend of the wedding, I would end up in the company of Walrus, Doug's best friend from Connecticut. He was as cute as it gets, and we were like peas and carrots, sitting together at the rehearsal dinner and joking around at the party afterward. We stayed up late that night, talking and sipping beer and not doing anything either of us would regret. During the ceremony, he winked at me and I smiled back. Walrus was the perfect date, kissing me good night after the reception and saying, "See you at the next wedding." So when all the festivities were over and my phone rang late Sunday afternoon, I was sure it was Walrus, calling from the airport.
"Hello?" I answered the phone.
"Hello, Ree?" The strong male voice on the other end said.
"Hey, Walrus!" I shrieked. There was a long silent pause.
"Walrus?" I repeated.
The deep voice began again. "You might not remember me — we met at the J-Bar last Christmas?"
It was the Marlboro Man.
It had been almost exactly four months since we'd locked glances at that bar, four months since his eyes and hair had made my knees turn to overcooked noodles. It had been four months since he'd failed to call me the next day, week, month. I'd moved on, of course, but the rugged image of Marlboro Man had left an indelible mark on my psyche.
But I'd just begun my Chicago planning before I met him, and now I was just about set to go.
"Oh, hi," I said nonchalantly. I was leaving soon. I didn't need this guy.
"How've you been?" he continued. Yikes. That voice. It was gravelly and deep and whispery and dreamy, all at the same time. I didn't know until that moment that it had already set up permanent residence in my bones. My marrow remembered that voice.
"Good," I replied, focusing on appearing casual. "I'm just gearing up to move to Chicago, actually."
"Oh…" He paused. "Well…would you like to go out to dinner this week?"
"Um, sure," I said, not really seeing the point of going out but also unable to turn down a date with the first and only cowboy I'd ever been attracted to. "I'm pretty free this week, so —"
"How 'bout tomorrow night?" he cut in. "I'll pick you up at seven."
He didn't know it, but that single take-charge moment, his instantaneous transformation from a shy, quiet cowboy to this confident, commanding presence affected me profoundly. My interest was officially ablaze.
I opened the front door of my parents' house the next evening. His blue denim shirt caught my eye only seconds before his equally blue eyes did.
"Hello," he said, smiling.
Those eyes. They were fixed on mine, and mine on his, for more seconds than is customary at the beginning of a first date. My knees — which had turned to rubber bands the night I met him in a fit of illogical lust — were once again as firm as cooked spaghetti.
"Hello," I answered. I was wearing sleek black pants, a violet V-neck sweater and spiked black boots — fashionwise, we were hilariously mismatched. I sensed he noticed, as my skinny heels obnoxiously clomped along the pavement of the driveway.
We talked all through dinner; if I ate, I wasn't aware of it. We talked about my childhood on a golf course, about his upbringing in the country. About my lifelong commitment to ballet; about his passion for football. About L.A. and celebrities; cowboys and agriculture. At the end of the evening, riding in a Ford F-250 diesel pickup with a cowboy, I knew there was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be.
He walked me to the door — the same one to which I'd been escorted by pimply high school boys and miscellaneous suitors. But this time was different. Bigger. I felt it. I wondered for a moment if he felt it, too.
That's when the spike heel of my boot got caught on my parents' brick sidewalk. In an instant, I saw my life and my pride pass before my eyes as my body lurched forward. I was going to bite it, for sure — in front of the Marlboro Man. I was an idiot, a dork, a klutz of the highest order. I wanted to snap my fingers and magically wind up in Chicago where I belonged, but my hands were too busy darting in front of my torso, hoping to brace my body from the fall.
But someone caught me. Was it an angel? In a way. It was Marlboro Man. I laughed from nervous embarrassment. He chuckled gently. He was still holding my arms, in the same strong cowboy grip he'd used to rescue me moments earlier. Where were my knees? They were no longer part of my anatomy.
I'd always been boy crazy. From lifeguards at the pool to the caddies traipsing the golf course, cute boys were simply one of my favorite things. By my mid-20s, I'd dated practically every category of cute boy under the sun. Except for one. Cowboy. I'd never even spoken to a cowboy, let alone known one personally, let alone ever dated one, and certainly, absolutely, positively never kissed one — until that night on my parents' front porch, a mere couple weeks before I was set to begin my new life in Chicago. After rescuing me from falling flat on my face, this cowboy, this Western movie character standing in front of me, was, with one strong, romantic, mind-numbingly perfect kiss, inserting the category of "cowboy" into my dating repertoire.
The kiss. I'll remember this kiss till my very last breath, I thought to myself. I'll remember every detail. Strong callused hands gripping my upper arms. Five o'clock shadow rubbing against my chin. Faint smell of boot leather in the air. Starched denim shirt against my palms, which have gradually found their way around his trim chiseled waist....
I don't know how long we stood there in the first embrace of our lives together. But I do know that when that kiss was over, my life as I'd always imagined it was over, too.
I just didn't know it yet.
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Excerpted from The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels — A Love Story by Ree Drummond. Copyright © 2011 by Ree Drummond. By arrangement with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.