The bank of newfangled mailboxes in front of the oldfangled post office caught my eye while driving through Monday and I got to worrying again about Derby, which is not itself these days.
I remember the Opera House, long since reduced to a pile of bricks, but not the two grand white frame churches with towering corner steeples --- one Methodist and the other Presbyterian, quintessentially small-town Iowa --- that once harmonized with an old grain elevator as the skyline trio.
The elevator lasted longest, but became an eyesore and then a hazard and finally was taken down, too. Those here who go to church go elsewhere.
The business district survives, kind of, but no business --- other than the post office. The vehicle in front was alone in a three-block stretch.
Since the door was wide open (on a cool morning), I stepped inside to ask the gracious Twila Evans about the boxes and she told me what everyone in Derby already knew --- that they were installed some time ago when post office hours were cut to 8 a.m.-noon.
Postal customers who once stepped inside after work afternoons no longer could, so the sidewalk boxes, accessible at any time, were planted in concrete outside the door for those who wished to use them.
For now, Twila said, the reduced-hours post office seems secure, but that could change at any time.
I'll bet some of you think it's wildly inefficient to maintain a post office in a tiny place like Derby. Try telling that to the folks who live there, or in Russell, or Williamson, or Lucas, and see what happens.
About 115 people live in Derby now (down from a few hundred), the park is nicely kept, the community center and fire station are relatively new, the brick school long gone.
Occasional bikers and hikers follow the Cinder Path through town --- it follows from Chariton to Humeston the route of the old Chariton-to-St. Joe branch of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. Derby was founded in 1872 because of that new rail line, as was Humeston, a few miles south.
There are quite a few well-kept houses (some large and once-aspirational) in Derby and quite a few not so well-kept, some derelict, too.
Gusta Flack opened the Derby Cafe during April of 1958 in this old building next to the post office, then owned by the Lloyd Cottinghams, who operated the lumber yard and elevator from 1942 until 1972.
Her food and style of service kept Derby on the map until she retired at age 86 during the year 2000. Folks drove from miles around ....
Gusta died in Chariton earlier this year, aged 100 --- and now rests in the Derby Cemetery.
Her old building still is hanging in there and from the outside at least seems to be in fairly good shape. It shed a few bricks a couple of years ago, but those have been put back into place.
It's not clear what will become of the building, but for now at least there's no place in Derby to buy so much as a cup of coffee.