- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

ROCHESTER, Texas (AP) - You can have a Coke and a smile, but if you walk into Linda Short’s Coke barn, prepare to keep grinning. The size of her collection is liable to make your jaw ache.

“There’s something about Coca-Cola that resonates with everybody, it’s a feel-good, happy thing,” she said. “You know the song, ‘I want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony’”

The popular run of that long-gone Coke theme song roughly coincides with the first collectible item from the soft drink company that she’d ever purchased. It was on a band trip to Six Flags Over Texas in the early 70s, she found one of the cola company’s iconic drinking glasses filled with wax, it was a candle resembling a Coke float.

A lot of time passed, however, before her collection took on the monster status it’s acquired since. Fast forward then, to the early 1990s.

“One day I just decided I wanted a Coke machine,” Short told the Abilene Reporter-News (http://bit.ly/1kZjpLu).

A furniture store was going out of business in Haskell, so she put up a sign indicating she was looking for a Coca-Cola vending machine. Soon after, someone approached her saying they had one on their back porch. Twenty-odd years later, there are plenty more machines beside that first one.

But if you’re going to collect something, you’ve got to commit to having a place to either display, or at least keep it all. At first she used the utility room when they built their house two decades ago.

“Then we closed in the back porch, and then we out grew that,” she said. “I just told my husband, ‘I’ve got to build a building,’ and he was amazed at how much stuff came out of the garage, out of the barn, out of here, out of there, to go in here.”

They built her Coke barn about a year ago - a standard 20-by-40-foot metal building that probably looked big enough at the time, but now seems pretty full.

“Then I said all my little stuff has to go downtown because I don’t have room for it here,” she said, laughing. “My husband said I should have built a bigger barn.”

A smaller display of her Coca-Cola items fills one of the rooms at the Rochester Museum, the site of the city’s former bank.

Some folks collect with an eye to the future. They’ll gather up items based upon what their worth might rise to sometime further down the road.

Short isn’t one of those people.

“I’m not in it to sell it, I’m doing it for me, it makes me happy,” she said. “When I’m long gone my kids can sell it and get the money out of it, but when I buy it I’m not even thinking about the resale value.”

She enjoys showing her display to visitors, but that doesn’t mean she’s showing-off. Simply put, the collection makes her feel good.

And not only in the emotional, metaphorical meaning of that phrase, but physically so as well. In her mind, Coke cures.

“A lot of doctors say it’s not good for you, you can use it on your batteries or whatever and the acid will eat everything off it,” she said. “But I had migraine headaches and I was going to a neurologist in Abilene, they thought I had a mini-stroke type of thing a few years ago.”

At the time, they took her off the migraine medicine she was using. It contained a good deal of caffeine, but not being a coffee drinker, her doctor recommended drinking a Coke each day. Fortunately, she knew where to get them.

“So every morning, that’s the first thing I do, is drink a Coke,” Short said. “If I have a bad migraine or a headache coming on, I can drink a Coke - usually a canned Coke is better than a bottled one, I don’t know what it is about it - but that’ll take care of it.”

Being a peanut farming family, naturally her preferred snack with a Coca-Cola is peanut butter crackers. But back in the day, it was straight peanuts dumped into an open bottle.

“Coke and peanuts; growing up, that’s what you did,” she said. “The peanuts came in the little sacks; you ripped off the top, drank a little bit of your Coke, and then you poured the peanuts down the bottle and shook it up.”

You couldn’t shake it too hard, the salt would make the soda fizz already, and the cola’s taste would acquire a somewhat salty undertone.

“After you’ve drank the bottle of Coke, the peanuts gathered at the bottom of the bottle and you tried to get the last one out,” she recalled. “Maybe that was a rural Texas thing.”

The collection never stops growing. Friends call with tips or information on a find spotted in a classified ad or online somewhere. The fun comes from the hunt, Short said, but the enjoyment and satisfaction come from in spending time with her treasures.

“I have a friend that lives in Houston, sometimes we’ll be talking and I’ll say, ‘I’m a little down today’” Short admitted. “She’ll say, ‘Just go outside and spend a little time in your Coke room.’”

And why not, with her kids grown, graduated from college and living on their own lives? Even Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, Batman his cave, and every man his garage.

“No grandkids, yet. So I can do what I want to, when I want to,” Short said. “It’s time for me, now.”

She shrugged her shoulders, eyes roaming the walls of the barn to settle on her favorites, the Coca-Cola Santa Claus shelf.

“This is my little oasis, my little getaway from everything,” she added, after a moment.

“My husband even put satellite in here for me.”

___

Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, http://www.reporternews.com

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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