Helen Fowler: The past is no longer in the past

Christmas tree
Christmas tree
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I am cursing my idiocy for insisting on a “real” tree for Christmas.

Thanks to my Multiple Sclerosis (MS), bringing even a modest fir tree home is turning into a feat of endurance. What’s wrong with the seven feet of green plastic we already have?

The song that has been playing in my head all week is from the movie Frozen. “The past is in the past” it goes. Wrong. I want to revive the memories from my childhood. And that means I’d love to have a real fir tree. Root, branch and all.

But the reality isn’t quite matching up to my hopes.

Not least because my MS means it’s been a struggle to make the expedition to the supermarket in the first place to buy the tree. And I am regretting buying one that comes with a pot full of earth.

Parked outside our home, we are enveloped by darkness.

The street is deserted. The last thing I want to do is try and lug the tree from the car into the house. Mostly because I am frightened I can’t. I could ask a neighbour for help, but MS hasn’t yet removed my capacity for embarrassment and false pride.

The poor tree isn’t looking too festive either. It’s somewhat forlorn, laid on its side in the car boot. It’s surrounded by plastic netting and piles of earth that have spilt from its pot.

In the past I’d have lifted the tree (pot, needles, branches and all) without pausing to think about it.

MS has changed everything. These days I am grateful for the ability to walk and see. But I forgot about my MS in my excitement at buying the tree.

The people from the supermarket helped me get the tree into the car. But now we’re back at home, it’s just me and my two young daughters, aged seven and nine. My husband is at work, where he is due to remain for some time. My daughters are unwilling to wait for him.

I peer inside the boot and gaze at the branches of the tree. My younger daughter sees my expression. “Let me! Let me!” she insists. I’m dubious; the tree is just about bigger than her and she has lost her gloves again, so is bare handed. “Be careful,” I manage. She puts her hands inside her coat sleeves. And together we haul the tree out of the car.

I need to kneel down on the pavement for a moment to recover from the effort. Passers-by may think I’m drunk, I worry.

My younger daughter puts down the tree and pauses to check on me. I’m fine, I tell her, it’s just the usual thing that’s wrong, my MS. Then she puts all her strength into half-dragging, half-lifting the tree along the path. She proceeds with her load, pausing frequently to rest. “It is like carrying those big metal things [dumb bells] to get stronger,” she tells me during a break. “I do not want to get something prickly on my fingers, so I am getting hold of the plastic bit at the top.”

One step at a time, she hauls the tree upstairs to our sitting room. “I just need to get it to the top because then we can decorate it,” she says.

They say a Christmas tree is a symbol of hope, offering light at a time of annual darkness. This tree is certainly that. I have rarely – if ever – seen my younger daughter so proud of herself. And I am proud of her too.

We drag out the box containing tinsel, baubles and fairy lights. Together we arrange decorations around the tree. We step back. I switch on the lights. We admire the transformation.

The past is no longer in the past. It’s alive in the Christmas tree here in our sitting room. The pine needles sticking into my feet are testimony to that.

Helen Fowler is an experienced financial journalist and corporate copywriter, based in Edinburgh. She can be found here: www.helenfowlerconsulting.com