“Have you ever looked at the bud of a magnolia flower?” Joanna Gaines asks in the preface to her and husband Chip’s memoir, The Magnolia Story. “It’s a tight little pod that stays closed up for a long time on the end of its branch until one day, out of nowhere, it finally bursts open into this gigantic, gorgeous, fragrant flower that’s ten times bigger than the bud itself. … And that’s sort of what getting ‘discovered’ and sharing our lives on Fixer Upper feels like to us.”
Magnolia, of course, is the name of the Gaineses’ Waco-based real estate-renovation-home goods brand that’s blossomed into an empire, thanks to the huge success of their HGTV show. Last month, they released a 183-page memoir that focuses on their lives before fame and fortune came knocking down their door. It immediately became a bestseller.
The Magnolia Story puts readers in the passenger’s seat on their road to success — a road dotted with potholes and speedbumps and even unpaid tickets.
It’s a quick read, and an entertaining one. By now, fans have heard that the book reveals they had serious financial troubles before the show. But some of their funniest, most memorable stories are about their relationship.
Without spoiling too much, here are five adorable vignettes from their early years that make us fall in love with Chip and Jo all over again.
1. Joanna could be married to “Hot John” instead. Male co-workers at her dad’s tire store urged a shy 23-year-old Joanna Stevens to talk to a good-looking guy in the lobby nicknamed “Hot John,” she reveals. She finally agreed but lost her nerve and walked past him, all the way outside, where she sat down near a chatty guy in a baseball cap who struck up a 20-minute conversation. It was Chip Gaines, “Hot John’s” roommate and business partner. The next day, Chip, not “Hot John,” called the store to ask her for a date.
2. Chip was better at business plans than personal plans. By his mid-20s, they say, entrepreneurial Chip had already owned a series of businesses. But after he asked out Joanna, he failed to make a plan for their date. In fact, he showed up 90 minutes late and didn’t apologize.
“He said, ‘Joanna, where do you want to go eat?’ ” she recalls. They headed to a restaurant at a historic home in Valley Mills, a risky move for a first date since it involved a 30-minute drive each way. That was October. Their next date wasn’t until January.
3. They had a fixer-upper wedding. Not in the sense that they knocked down walls and rerocked a fireplace. But, on May 31, 2003, they were to be married outside a historic home in Waco. As the setting was a garden filled with beautiful white roses, they didn’t need much of a budget for wedding flowers, they write. When they arrived for the rehearsal the day before their wedding, they discovered the estate had pruned all the roses.
“There was nothing there but empty stems,” Joanna writes. “The arbors, the arch over the altar, everything was just leaves and thorns.” So they scrambled to buy hundreds of white roses and stuck them in the bare bushes, trying to make them look as natural as possible.
4. Their first night home as newlyweds was not exactly romantic. They moved into an old rent house that Chip was renovating and had to lie on carpet that wreaked of dog urine. “And I finally said, ‘Chip, I’m not sleeping in this house,’ ” Joanna writes. They loaded into Chip’s parents’ RV and drove away, in the rain, to an RV park next to a cemetery.
But they got stuck. “We wound up toughing it out and spending the first night after our honeymoon in a hot, old RV packed full of our belongings, suspended between two bumps in the road,” she says.
5. Joanna bailed Chip out of jail carrying a newborn. A week after their first baby, Drake, was born, Waco police arrived at their house with a warrant for Joanna’s arrest, they write. They’d gotten several tickets for letting their dogs out without a leash. But they couldn’t afford the fines. A judge agreed to meet with them, they were told. But when they got to the courthouse and switched the tickets from Joanna’s name to Chip’s, he was arrested and hauled to jail.
Joanna emptied the cash register at her store to come up with $800 to bail him out. “Then I went to the jail with my week-old son strapped to my chest in his BabyBjörn and waited,” she writes. “It was just another day in my new life with Chip Gaines. … I don’t think it’s irrational or too conservative of me to think, ‘I never want to carry my baby into the county jail ever again.’ ”
The Magnolia Story
- By Chip and Joanna Gaines with Mark Dagostino
- Thomas Nelson, $26.99