By Melinda Munson

Two weeks ago, I almost ran away. Alaska’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 were rapidly multiplying. It was time to fly our 18-year-old to our new home in Skagway — or put the rest of the family on planes back to our former residence in Chugiak.

I’m not a quitter but I was scared. We had just arrived in town after an 800-mile move. As the cruise season disappeared, so did my husband’s job and ad revenue from my newly acquired newspaper. We have a house with a mortgage back in Chugiak, the added expense of our Skagway rental and no foreseeable income. 

With two hours to make a choice, we decided to bring our daughter here and tough it out with the rest of the town. It’s possible we could lose our home. We made peace with it the best we could.

Lately, life has been full of uncomfortable, quick decisions. This morning my husband and I talked about ventilators. If things got bad, would we advocate to put our medically fragile child on the life-saving device or would we cede the equipment to someone with no prior medical issues? Would that choice even be ours to make? Probably not.

Now, I often walk around feeling like Alice In Wonderland. Face mask on, glasses fogged, the world I took for granted shifts periodically. Even small formalities are fraught with uncertainty. Do I hold the door for the woman with groceries? Should I handle cash? Is it okay to kiss my children?

Financially, the next 18 months look bleak. Our dream of buying a home in Skagway has changed to a desperate hope that we can pay rent. Trips to the grocery store are filled with tension as I almost physically feel the funds slipping from our bank account.

Emotionally, I’m struggling. Other than illness and death, sheltering-in-place is my worst nightmare. As the mother of multiple kids with special needs, isolation is already a reality I fight against daily. I work hard to get respite workers to share the load. I appreciate the time my kids spend at school,  supported by the education community. I frequently have kid-free play dates with other moms. With all of those resources gone, I am floundering.

Melinda Munson, and daughter Julia, share a takeout meal from Skagway Brewing Company. They stay six feet apart as Julia self-isolates after arriving in Skagway. Photo by Melinda Munson

Currently in our home, there are no homemade puffy paint chalk sessions or elaborate obstacle courses. We spend our time unpacking, filling bellies and wiping bums, keeping our hands to ourselves and taking the occasional hike when Skagway’s “slap you in the face” wind has temporarily relented. We have no house internet, six Blu-ray movies and 1,200 square feet occupied by eight people.

Everyday, I look for something to boost my spirits. And thankfully, Skagway delivers. From the teddy bear windows to Skagway’s Got Talent, this town is handling the crisis with grace and humor. I feel comforted that the municipality created an emergency assistance program to help families bridge the gap between bills due now and future unemployment checks. I’m a fan of Tu-Tu Tuesdays and the strangers who wave from their cars as they drive by.

Thank you, Skagway. Stay healthy, stay quirky and stay safe.

Melinda Munson is co-owner of the Skagway News.