By Melinda Munson
It’s been a year. I mean this both figuratively and literally.
Our family’s move to Skagway, one week before COVID-19 financially devastated the town, has been painful, chaotic and bewildering.
With eight people packed into a 1,200 square-foot modular, which we were fortunate to procure in Skagway’s tight rental market, I’ve suddenly become claustrophobic.
Every time the municipality announces a new shelter-in-place order or Skagway School is cancelled because of covid cases, I shut myself in my tiny room stuffed with a king-sized mattress and try not to scream. There is no lock on the door, so I’m quickly joined by a child, usually with a request or inquiry. (My favorite thus far: “Mom, what do they sell at a bookstore?” This facilitated a roll of my eyes and an eventual field trip to Skaguay News Depot.)
It’s also been a year since Gretchen and I were chosen out of hundreds of applicants worldwide to take over The Skagway News, becoming the first female owners. We hoped for a modest income and a chance to serve the community. So far, we’re definitely serving the community.
When I relocated to Skagway, I expected cruise ships and slightly milder weather than Anchorage. Both factors elude me.
We left our snowblower behind in Southcentral Alaska after a thorough debate on Skagway Bulletin Board. That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was renting a unit in Whitehorse, Yukon to store a majority of our household goods until we moved into our year-long rental.
“We’ll be in Canada every two weeks to pick up the paper from the printer,” I said. “Does it really matter what country we keep our belongings?” Turns out, it does. During a pandemic, Canada doesn’t care if all your winter gear, all your hand-me-downs or even your grandmother’s World War Two photo album is out of reach. They also don’t care if you normally print your paper at the Whitehorse Star.
My third mistake was not comprehending how the meat department functions at Fairway Market. When I didn’t see a turkey in the aisles around Thanksgiving, I assumed the fowls missed the barge. It wasn’t until Denise at the bookstore mentioned weeks later she had procured a bird that I learned the secret. “You just have to ask,” she advised. “They keep them in the back.”
My most embarrassing mistakes have been in the paper for the entire town to observe — a missing apostrophe or a story that got cut off. Recently, I misunderstood Assemblymember Orion Hanson when he said he had two employees who couldn’t safely travel Dyea Road. Somehow, I heard “two sons.” With a few keyboard taps, I made Hanson into a parent with two new mouths to feed and college funds he’s been neglecting. Since then, I’ve noticed that when speaking at assembly meetings, Hanson removes his mask and enunciates into the microphone. He’s probably worried I’ll mishear and conjure up an ex-spouse who wants alimony.
Throughout the upheaval and financial quagmire of this past year, I am certain of one thing. Moving to Skagway was not a mistake. This town fits me like a glove, a heavy duty, the-wind-is-blowing-50-miles-per-hour kind of glove. I love the sound of my heels thumping on the boardwalk. I like walking to nearly every destination. City Hall is beautiful and when I ask on Facebook at midnight for 9V batteries for a toddler’s thermometer, five people respond.
Make no mistake about it, Skagway, I love you and you are my home.