published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

From Texas to Tennessee: Four drive 16 hours, 900 miles to Chattanooga for the perfect 'do

Tamy Metzger, left, and Marcena O'Malley, right, wait their turn as Curtis Reser cuts Phillis Nelson's hair in his East Brainerd salon.
Tamy Metzger, left, and Marcena O'Malley, right, wait their turn as Curtis Reser cuts Phillis Nelson's hair in his East Brainerd salon.
Photo by Dan Henry.

'I first met you when a stylist had just given me the worst perm I'd ever had," Tamy Metzger recalls.

"I remember when you first came to me," answers the man curling her hair on Tuesday. "You were 36 and had green hair -- and that was before it was cool to have green hair."

"I remember laughing the entire time you were doing my hair," Phillis Nelson says. "It was like stand-up comedy. The chatter was fun; the service superior."

"And you like to be manhandled," the stylist jokingly replies.

Sixteen hours. Nine hundred miles. About 1,500 bucks each. But for Metzger, Nelson, Marcena O'Malley and Judy Smith, the time, miles and money are a small price to pay to reconnect with an old friend, confidante and the only man they say can do justice to a very valuable part of their bodies.

Their hair.

The quartet drove from Brenham, Texas, to Chattanooga this week so they could let the fingers of stylist Curtis Reser run through their hair, cutting, curling, trimming, coloring.

It just hasn't been the same, they say, since Reser left Brenham seven years ago and moved to Chattanooga to open Curtis Reser Hair Studios on East Brainerd Road. Though the entire trip cost each lady between $1,500 and $1,700 for gas, meals and lodging -- and Reser's fee -- the reunion with the stylist and his wife, Melody, is "priceless," Metzger says.

"Sixteen hours is a little long to drive to get your hair styled, but we knew it was worth it," says Metzger, 63, the retired director of community relations for Brenham State Supported Living Center and instigator of the road trip.

The ladies, all in their 60s and 70s, admit that being cooped up in a car for nearly 1,000 miles could take a toll on temperaments, but there were no blowups because they're great friends.

Each brings a lifetime of personality that mixes cocky, sweet, witty and chatty -- all of which pop out during their hours in the salon, bolstered perhaps by the glasses of wine they were drinking.

"Judy talks the most," Metzger said.

"They pick on me," Smith said. "But my husband offered a piece of advice before we left. He told me: 'Just remember, everyone gets a turn to talk.'"

In the salon, everyone does.

"I still have your first business card," Reser, 50, tells Metzger.

"Shut up!" she says. "I can't believe you've kept it all these years."

For seven years, Metzger says, she and her friends journeyed from stylist to stylist in Texas, searching for someone with Reser's talent, but to no avail.

"I cried when he left," Metzger says. "Curtis makes you look good, and when you look good, you feel good."

The Resers moved to Chattanooga, Melody's hometown, because her mother, who still lived in Chattanooga, was gravely ill and died a short time after they arrived. Melody's jewelry business, Juicy Gems, is located inside her husband's salon.

O'Malley, 74, a stay-at-home mom/grandmother, says Reser has the "magic touch."

"He doesn't tease our hair or use hairspray," she says. "He makes hair look natural and pretty."

"You walk in and he does his thing," says 69-year-old Nelson. "He knows best what looks good on you."

Metzger -- with her green hair -- was the first one to find Reser, but she soon introduced the rest to his ministrations.

"I first saw you in 1991," Nelson tells Reser. "My life at the time was rushed. Ted (her husband) and I were busy and always going in strange directions. I'd give you a call at the last minute and you'd tell me come on down. I'd get my 'do and be on my way."

Smith, 74, says she starting going to Reser after Metzger insulted her hair.

"He was great," Smith says. "He roughs up your hair like he owns it. He's not afraid to get his hands in it. But when he left, it was awful.

"Metzger was trying different stylists and once sent me to a Bible thumper who tried to convert me. She could tell right away I was a sinner. Since then, it has been a struggle for us to find someone we like."

Reser says his conversation with the ladies rarely, if ever, focused on hair.

"We talked about everything except politics. Everyone in Texas is a Republican so I just learned to not talk about politics," he says.

"And that was a good thing," says Smith, a retired school teacher.

Though almost 1,000 miles separates Reser from Brenham, he has connections back in Texas that keeps him up-to-date on the latest gossip, even some that was news to the ladies, including recent talk about a well-known Brenham horse farm owner who divorced his wife to be with a younger woman.

As the ladies, saying their hair was styled to perfection, said goodbye to the Resers Tuesday afternoon, they climbed into O'Malley's 2012 Cadillac sport utility vehicle, heading north to Nashville where they planned to spend the next two days at Opryland.

They'll also stay a night at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and will visit Graceland and Beale Street before heading home to Texas.

Still, the Texas ladies vowed to make the trek to Chattanooga again. They're even considering it becoming an annual visit, Metzger says.

"We all came here with our hair in bad shape," she says. "And, now, we're looking good."

"Thank you, Curtis," Nelson tells Reser, as she softly kisses his cheek. "I can't tell you how good I feel. I haven't looked like this in such a long time."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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