Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman, has become famous for her anecdotes and recipes straight from her ranch in Oklahoma. In “The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels,” she recalls the first time she met she met her future husband, a Marlboro Man-esque cowboy, in a smoky Oklahoma bar.
Chapter One: One upon a time in the Midwest
Forget this, I said to myself as I lay sprawled on the bed in which I grew up. In my hometown on a self-imposed pit stop, I was mired in a papery swamp of study guides, marked-up drafts of my résumé, listings of available Chicago apartments, and a J. Crew catalog, from which I’d just ordered a $495 wool gabardine winter coat in olive, not chocolate, because I’m a redhead, and because Chicago, I reminded myself, is a tad more nippy than Los Angeles, which I’d just left weeks earlier. I’d been at it all week — searching, editing, shopping, ordering — and I was worn smooth out, my eyes watery from reading, my middle finger pruney from licking and flipping through pages, my favorite fuzzy socks dingy and rank from languishing on my feet for two days straight. I needed a break.
With this in mind, I washed my face, threw on some black mascara — an absolute must for any fair-skinned redhead with light eyes — and released my hair from its tired ponytail. Throwing on a faded light-blue turtleneck and my favorite holey jeans, I dabbed some Carmex on my lips and blew out the door. Fifteen minutes later, I was in the company of my old friends and the chardonnay, feeling the kind of mellow buzz that comes not only from your first couple of sips of the night but also from the familiar 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, I noticed, cowboy boots. And his hair. The stallion’s hair was very short and silvery gray — much too gray for how young his face said he was, but just gray enough to send me through the roof with all sorts of fantasies of Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Gracious, but he was a vision, this Marlboro Man-esque, rugged character across the room. After a few minutes of staring, I inhaled deeply, then stood up. I needed to see his hands.
Within minutes, we were talking.
He was a fourth-generation cattle rancher whose property was over an hour away from this cultured, corporate hometown of mine. His great-great-grandfather had emigrated from Scotland in the late 1800s and gradually made his way to the middle of the country, where he’d met and married a local gal and become a successful merchant. His sons would be the first in the family to purchase land and run cattle at the turn of the century, and their descendants would eventually establish themselves as cattle ranchers throughout the region.
Of course, I knew none of this as I stood before him in the bar that night, shuffling my Donald Pliner spiked boots and looking nervously around the room. Looking down. Looking at my friends. Trying my best not to look too gazingly into his icy blue-green eyes or, worse, drool all over him. Besides, I had other things to do that night: study, continue refining my résumé, polish all of my beloved black pumps, apply a rejuvenating masque, maybe watch my VHS tape of West Side Story for the 3,944th time. But before I knew it an hour had passed, then two. We talked into the night, the room blurring around us as it had done at the dance in West Side Story when Tony and Maria first saw each other across a crowd of people.
Before I could internally break into the second chorus of song, my version of Tony — this mysterious cowboy — announced abruptly that he had to go. Go? I thought. Go where? There’s no place on earth but this smoky bar .... But there was for him: he and his brother had plans to cook Christmas turkeys for some needy folks in his small town.
Mmmm. He’s nice, too, I thought as a pang stabbed my insides.
“Bye,” he said with a gentle smile. And with that, his delicious boots walked right out of the J-Bar, his dark blue Wranglers cloaking a body that I was sure had to have been chiseled out of granite. My lungs felt tight, and I still smelled his scent through the bar smoke in the air. I didn’t even know his name. I prayed it wasn’t Billy Bob.
I was sure he’d call the next morning at, say, 9:34. It was a relatively small community; he could find me if he wanted to. But he didn’t. Nor did he call at 11:13 or 2:49 or at any other time that day, or week, or month. Throughout that time, if I ever allowed myself to remember his eyes, his biceps, his smoldering, quiet manner, which was so drastically unlike those of all the silly city boys I’d bothered with over the past few years, a salty wave of disappointment would wash over me. But it didn’t really matter anyway, I’d tell myself. I was headed to Chicago. To a new city. To a new life. I had zero business getting attached to anyone around there, let alone some Wrangler–wearing cowboy with salt-and-pepper hair. Cowboys ride horses, after all, and they wear bandanas around their necks and pee outside and whittle. They name their children Dolly and Travis and listen to country music.
Talk about my polar opposite.
From “The Pioneer Woman — Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story” by Ree Drummond. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow Publishers.