When Ree Drummond first met her husband Ladd in a smoky bar in her hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, their lives didn’t seem to be compatible: He was a fifth generation cowboy living on a remote cattle ranch, and she had just left college in Los Angeles with the intention of continuing the hustle and bustle of the big city of Chicago.
“I was a crazy kid. That was my interest,” Food Network’s Pioneer Woman told PEOPLE in this week’s cover story at the newsstand on Friday. “But it was completely different from all the guys I’d been crazy about.” I don’t want to make it sound like Maria and Tony in West Side Story, but I was just like, “Oh man! My knees were weak.” Ladd, though much more reserved in his description of the evening, felt the same way. “There was nothing I didn’t like about her,” he says.
A year and a half later, the two were engaged. The following year, she was pregnant with their first child (conceived on their honeymoon). For those who say “she didn’t want to get married” and “didn’t feel the vocation” of motherhood, her life had taken a drastic turn – but she hadn’t thought too much about it. “My heart was taking me there and I felt like I was letting things go on,” she says.
Now the two have been married for almost 21 years and their family has been extended with four children, Alex, 20, Paige, 18, Bryce, 15 and Todd, 13. What about Ree’s number one tip to keep their relationship strong? “We always hit our feet at night,” she says. “Even if one of us is a little miffed, or if someone doesn’t feel it … if our feet touch, I always know:” Okay, it’s all right. “
“I am also very attracted to my husband at the age of 48, which I think is pretty cool,” she adds. “He only has these biceps … and when I see him on a horse, it’s all over.”
It is a strong physical connection that she describes in her memoir, The Pioneer Woman: From Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (which she describes as “Harlequin Romance meets Green Acres”), and on the blog that has made her famous. “He’s such a good sport about things like that,” she says. “I tried not to be very exuberant about it, and I don’t think it was me, but not that every husband would like it if their wife took a picture of it in their greenhouses and posted it on the internet. He is just always been a kind of game. Quiet game. “
Now the two have been married for almost 21 years and their family has expanded to include four children, Alex, 20, Paige, 18, Bryce, 15, and Todd, 13. What about Ree’s number one advice to keep their relationship strong? “We always touch our feet at night,” she says. “Even if one of us is a little irritated, or if someone doesn’t feel it… if our feet touch, I always know, ‘Okay, it’s okay’.”
“I’m also extremely attracted to my husband at the age of 48, which I find very nice,” he adds. “He only has these biceps… and if I see him on a horse, it’s all over.”
From Ladd’s perspective, “She always put the most romantic touch on everything,” he says. “There were parts of the book I was reading and I thought, ‘Well, I don’t think I was trying to be romantic, but she took it so… that worked out great for us.”
And while her Food Network show portrays a version of their relationship that seems quite traditional – he’s out working the land while she’s in the kitchen making cakes and stews – there’s more to their dynamic than what we see on television. “In many ways, our marriage is far from traditional,” says Ree Drummond. “When I started my blog in 2006, Ladd was the only one who really understood what I was doing, probably before I even understood what I was doing. He wasn’t a technology expert, but he understood it, and he was totally in agreement.
Even when she has grown into a full-fledged business magnate, Ladd’s support has been unwavering, while she has pressed the fort for weeks on end while traveling the country on book tours and making television appearances. “He really is a modern father and husband,” says Ree Drummond.
In addition to a physical attraction and mutual admiration, Ree and Ladd also credit their permanent marriage with a shared faith. “This is not the answer for everyone, but we go to church together every Sunday,” she says. “It is something that we do, no matter what happens. It doesn’t matter how tired we are. I’ve seen the times when we got rid of it and the disaster lies in the bushes.”
“I think it’s important to be committed to your relationship with each other and with your relationship with God. That’s all,” says Ladd. “What Ree has achieved is incredible. We are simply aware that the good Lord has blessed us. “