Review of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond…or When I Finally Fell in Love with Oklahoma

Let’s get this out in the open.  When I grow up, I want to be The Pioneer Woman.

I want to look out my window and see a prairie or a hill or a beach…anything but a neighboring tract home.  I want to write about life and inspire people around me and not kill every plant I touch.  (I hold the world record for my quick and decisive plant-killing abilities).  I want to raise babies who play in fields and jump off docks.  I want to cook creations from my sun-drenched kitchen.

And yes, I know I have an unrealistic and romanticized idea of country life.

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels has been out for a few years.  I never read it.  I was too busy making Ree’s pasta carbonara or berries and cream – and then wondering why I gained weight.

But maybe my procrastination was all part of the plan.

There are books that serendipitously fall at your feet at just the opportune moment – when you are at a thousand specific crossroads and one hundred different convictions and one or two new resolutions.  When you’re ready for the words.  When you’re primed for the syllables and cadences to seamlessly swim from your eyes to your brain and then nestle into your marrow where they will stay and eventually become a little part of you.  If you’re really lucky, those words will become part of your DNA and will travel into a new generation of eyes and marrow, crossroads and convictions.

You may have a book like that.  I’m sure that book is more profound than Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.  It’s probably by Dostoevsky or Proust or Austen.  Some of those are part of my marrow too.  But at this moment, Ree’s words spoke to my very soul.

Part of it was the reminder of God’s faithfulness. From her and her husband’s unlikely meeting at a bar during a stopover on her cross-country move, to the provision of just enough love, just enough grace, just enough money, or just enough restraint when just enough was all they could muster, it’s a story about divine providence.

I loved the structure.  Ree deftly balanced scene and sequel – jargon in my writer’s world of action/dialogue (scene) and point-of-view character internalization, memories and feelings (sequel).  The scenes were hilarious and tender.  Some of the sequel was light and some dripped of intentional romance novel melodrama.  But just when I’d snuggled comfily into the pace of Ree melting at the sound of Marlborough Man’s chuckle or distraught over another embarrassing sweating incident, she’d throw in a swift one-two punch of heartbreaking, beautiful observations.

Watching the thirty-year marriage of your mother and father implode and disintegrate is like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion.  And your parents are the conductors, and the passengers on the train are family, and many lifelong friends, and all the future grandchildren, and a community, and memories and hopes and dreams.  And they’re all about to die in a fiery, deadly accident.  Oh, and you’re on the train, too.  But you’re also watching from the outside of the tracks.  And you want to scream…but it’s a nightmare, and your voice is squeezed and squelched and nothing comes out.  And you’re powerless to stop it.

Ree’s words are powerful and real and they spoke to me and reminded me why I am a writer.

The book came at an important cross road.  I’m a native Californian who is the first person in her family for generations to be born outside of Texas.  Even with my California beginnings, I am a Texan.  I have roots.

I have a plot at a cemetery that holds eight generations of my family.  It’s in a small Texas town that has streets named for my great, great grandfathers.  It’s down the way from where I played in fields and once tracked a skunk as a toe-headed child.  It’s near the place where Grandmommy Farris, my great grandmother – dreary from the years of widowhood that snatched her love and the aggressive arthritis that claimed both legs above the knee – looked into the corner of her nursing home room with suddenly bright eyes and said, “Oh, you mean I can walk now!” and immediately died.  It’s where my wedding quilt was pieced together and where my grandmother watched her father sell his last cow to pay for her school supplies during the Great Depression.

Texas and Oklahoma are only separated by a river, but to me it was the ocean.  It was an unnavigable divide.  I did not want to become an Oklahoman.  My loyalties were south of the Red River.

I read most of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels tucked in my king-sized bed in my sixth-story room at a semi-palatial casino and hotel in the Oklahoma countryside.  I was at a conference for Oklahoma public relations professionals at which I won a writing award.  Married and living in Oklahoma for three years and an official Oklahoman one more beyond that, this book fell in my lap right about the time I was falling in love with Oklahoma.

It had come in stages.  First I loved the University of Oklahoma and its Gothic architecture, formal gardens and the graduate education I was receiving.  Then I loved The Professor, whose roots were planted deep in the state’s red dirt.  Next I fell in love with my town – its indie culture, locally-owned health food stores, historic homes and wonderful friends.  But still, I didn’t consider myself a true Oklahoman.  I was just on loan from Texas.

But now, four years later, looking out from a six-story window onto the most beautiful bright green prairie, I was falling in love with this state.  The Pioneer Woman was my guide.  She was my loading dose.  My starter kit.  And I loved her for taking my hand and leading me across the Red River into home.

I enjoyed reading about Ree and Ladd finding love, fighting through the hard times and setting the foundation for their family.  My friends enjoyed the book too.  But someday for a few special people, this book will be surpass being sweet or cute or funny.  It will be precious to Ree’s children and grandchildren and the generations to come.

It is a beautiful story that if left untold would eventually be whittled down to a few high points – they met at a bar and he proposed in her front yard and she moved from the city to the country.  The real story would be gone and forgotten.  But now it won’t.  These words – already a part of their DNA – will travel through generations.

I too have an amazing love story.  I have a Pioneer Woman and Marlborough Man-esque epic love story that shows God’s faithfulness.  Even in the few short years since it began, I already tell the condensed version.  I already am forgetting the good parts.  My love story too could become lost, minimized and trivialized.  Someday I will tell it so no one forgets.

It all began with a red chair…