In an Oak Cliff attic, a trove of barbecue history

BryanChristmasCards

The air conditioner at the house Mara Richards and Brett Bim bought last month in Kiestwood runs constantly.

They figured the cause to be a lack of attic insulation, so Bim went up to take a look. In July. In Texas. Understandably, he was a little cranky about it, but he threw a bunch of Christmas cards down. Then he threw an old Army rucksack down.

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Richards started going through the cards and found an envelope postmarked 1974 and addressed to William J. Bryan Jr.

Her fiancee, who she describes as a “barbecue freak” commented, “wouldn’t it be funny if it was Sonny Bryan?”

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Mara Richards and Brett Bim found Sonny Bryan’s Army rucksack in their attic. It’s printed with his name, William J. Bryan Jr.

Turns out, his instinct was correct. The couple hadn’t known until then that they’d purchased the home that Sonny Bryan and his wife, Joanne, had bought in 1959. That was just a year after Sonny had left his father Red Bryan’s place to started his own successful barbecue restaurant.

Among the 40-year-old trove of cards are holiday greetings from real estate developer Vernon Smith, who was on the building committee for Methodist hospital and served on the Dallas City Council in the 1950s.

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“Wish you would break away and drive to the farm sometime,” wrote Pat Schlinkman, whose husband, Walt, played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1940s and was an assistant coach for the Houston Oilers.

Another friend, who signs only “Juanita,” gives updates on her family and tells Joanne she has to come up to the Dentist in Dallas and will let her know when. A friend named Fern writes, “Joanne, why don’t you come by the bank one day real soon and we will go have lunch — I would love to see you — Wendy says you are as beautiful as ever!!” Several card writers thank Mrs. Bryan for giving them handmade pillows. One card encourages the Bryans to come visit by car or bike — Sonny Bryan was an avid cyclist until his death at 63 in 1989.

Reading through the old letters and cards could make one a little melancholy, thinking about time passing, friends missing each other. But they also show that the Bryans were very nice people who had a lot of friends and family who loved them.

Richards, who works for the Dallas Theater Center, posted about the attic treasures on her personal blog, which she shared on Facebook. That’s how the Dallas Historical Society found out about her find and requested that she donate it. She told them she’d like to offer it to the Bryan family first, but the historical society is planning to photocopy all of the Christmas cards for its archives.

The couple also found Bryan’s Army rucksack, which is printed with his name, as well as a third-place physical fitness ribbon from DISD and a little Christmas elf. Richards says she thinks there could be more stuff in the attic, but they’re waiting until it cools off to go searching around up there.

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  • Mary

    It is sad that this type of history is lost with progress. Not a lot of written communication nowadays.

  • Mrs. Bryan was my next door neighbor for many years. Her son was one of the pastors at Lovers Lane Methodist Church up the street. A more gracious woman you would never find. She was the epitome of a Southern Belle.