I OFTEN walk through the West Kirkyard on my way from the Pennypit to the High Street in Prestonpans. There are still a couple of monuments which stand there but they seem stranded and oddly out of place, because at first sight this kirkyard doesn’t look like a kirkyard. It’s more like a walled green with a path that provides a convenient short cut.

But this is an ancient place. A medieval chapel very likely stood here before being destroyed in 1544 in the Rough Wooing.

The kirkyard may have been the main resting place of salters and miners, who lived and worked nearby. It was a place of burial for hundreds of years and maintained into living memory in 1928. But in the 1950s, the existing gravestones were collected and placed in the northwest corner in the 1950s. They can still be seen there.

But pause and look closer and you’ll notice older gravestones are embedded in the south and west walls. They would have once stood in the kirkyard as well, but they were built into the wall, probably around 1872, when the wall was repaired.

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The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, in their publication of 1907, stated that these “elaborate, undated relics form one of the most remarkable groups of gravestones anywhere to be seen”.

Since then, the old gravestones in the wall have weathered significantly. But they are still there and, while the inscriptions have been washed away with time, the images are mostly still identifiable.

Search carefully and you’ll find a gravestone showing a mother and her children: this is my favourite.

There is no way of dating it because it’s so worn, but I suspect it’s from the early 18th century. Such stones would not have been made for poor salters or miners, as they wouldn’t have had the funds to pay for such an elaborate memorial.

But when I stand by this ancient stone, I wonder who the children were and who the mother was.

Was the stone a memorial for all of them in a time of high infant mortality? Or was the stone in memory of a mother whose care and nurture of her children was what people remembered her for?

I suppose you could put another interpretation on it, that such a stone is suggestive of the old idea that a woman’s place is having and raising children, rather than having a career or even a paid job.

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But for me, the image on the stone speaks of love and commitment.

It makes me think of the women I know and have known in my own family, and the jobs they have done which are never acknowledged.

Even now, with all the advances in equality, women are still, like the mother carved on this gravestone, the ones who most likely have the responsibility to do all the unrecognised and unpaid jobs which are, in the end, some of the most important ones.

Women still tend to do all this, be the kin keepers. It’s a recent term but only because it’s just recently been acknowledged that such work exists.

Kin keeping is all that unheralded and invisible work done to keep family together, to make things function.

I first understood of its existence when I left home as a teenager and had to fend for myself in a shared flat.

I remember I ran out of toothpaste for the first time in my life. It had always replenished itself, like magic, beforehand. I’d never had to think about it.

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I’d never bought toothpaste or even thought about it as something needing noticed or done. It was because my mother was kin keeping and such things were just done ‘like magic’.

That’s a small and insignificant example of kin keeping. But it was the tiny tip of a huge iceberg of invisible work.

It made me realise that there was so much I had taken for granted. I know it’s not always women who are the kin keepers but most often it is, even now.

In the Christmas time just past, it will have been mostly women who were the invisible wheels keeping the show on the road: buying and writing cards, making the present list, ensuring all the so-called small details were sorted, often doing all the invisible jobs alongside the paid work.

Perhaps the invisible jobs, like buying toothpaste, is sometimes seemingly small and insignificant on its own, but when added up and multiplied by weeks of commitment, they make up a full-time job.

And it’s not just the doing of these jobs but the thinking and remembering of them, the mental and emotional responsibility they entail.

So for me, the gravestone depicting the mother and children in the West Kirkyard is not just a memorial to one woman, but a memorial to all women who embrace their family with love and care, and do the invisible work for their family which others won’t do, or don’t see.

I know it’s not how it should be; it needs to change. But as change hopefully takes place, we should honour and acknowledge our kin keepers and the work they do.

They were the ones who gave the unnoticed presents at Christmas. And they give all year round. And they are mostly the women in the family.

For me, I’d like to add my wife Kate to the list of honours, and your family will have at least one to add; perhaps it’s yourself.

I don’t know who she was, but I’d also like to add the mother in the West Kirkyard of the ‘Pans.

Sadly, like many other figures carved on gravestones, she is fading fast.

In the photo published in 1907 by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, her features are clear, as is the design surrounding the memorial. Soon she and her children will be mere ghostly outlines. I have noticed a significant deterioration even in the last 15 years.

Maybe it’s time to take her and her wall companions indoors before it’s too late? Or should she be left to erode?

I personally feel there is something special about this gravestone and we should find a way to preserve her and her children before they completely vanish.

But maybe that’s just me.