When Ree Drummond first met her husband Ladd in a smoky bar in her hometown of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, it didn’t seem that their life was compatible: he was a fifth-generation cowboy who lived on a remote cattle farm, and she was fresh from school in Los Angeles with plans to continue the big city bustle in Chicago.
“I was crazy about the boy. That was my interest,” the Pioneer Woman from the Dutch Nutrition Network tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story on Friday newsstands. “But he was just very different from all the guys I loved.” It is not my intention to make it sound like Maria and Tony in West Side Story, but I just thought, “Oh boy!” My knees were weak. “Ladd, although much more reserved in his description of the evening, felt the same way:” There was just nothing that 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 for their honeymoon). For someone who says she “did not want to get married” and had not felt “the calling” of motherhood, her life had taken a drastic turn – but she did not think about it. “My heart brought me there and I just felt like,” I’ll let this come true, “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. “
From Ladd’s perspective: “She always put the most romantic spin on everything possible,” he says. “There were parts of the book that I had read and thought,” Well, I don’t think I was trying to get romantic there, but she took it that way “… which was great for us.”
And while her Food Network show shows a version of their relationship, as she feels rather traditional: he is working in the country while she is in the kitchen and preparing pies and stews – there is more to their dynamics than what we see on TV. “In many ways, our marriage is anything but traditional,” says Ree. “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 was not technically skilled, but he just got it and sat there completely on board. “
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.
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. “