Summers during my early years of marriage were spent in my parents’ cottage in the Catskills. Country auctions were a popular event. The carton said APPLES but when I lifted the box, it didn’t feel heavy enough for apples, and I didn’t hear any rolling around.

The handwritten label said MYSTERY BOX. When the auctioneer called for bids on this item, I went as high as $2.00. Shortly, the gavel came down and the word SOLD resonated. I was ecstatic to know the box was mine and the mystery inside, mine.

We opened the box in the shade and although I had minimal expectations, the contents afforded me maximum delight. The carton contained a treasure trove of countless hand embroidered items. Someone had spent hours, days, weeks or maybe years creating this bundle of artwork. As a craftsperson, I could appreciate the variety of stitches and the quality of workmanship. The assortment included tablecloths, runners, samplers, doilies and squares, waiting for a backing to become pillow covers.

It may sound sexist, but I assumed the work was done by a woman and I would conjure up the life of the originator and thought of her relaxing during her limited quiet free time applying her skill to each piece. While paintings and drawings would usually have a signature, embroidery rarely would. The stitcher will remain a mystery.

In the entire embroidered assortment of works, there was only one large square that was partially done. The design was printed on the piece and most of the handwork was completed. The left-hand side contained hundreds of French knots to shape stalks of goldenrod with a small butterfly atop. Across the right side was the finest satin stitchery with the words SILVER THREADS AMONG THE GOLD. While I was familiar with the words, their meaning was a mystery. In researching them, I learned they were from a love song written in 1873. One interpretation talks of the graying and aging of the loved one. At my age, and in my stage of grayness, I would welcome such a love song.

A huge spider’s web was the only incomplete portion, but the black outline of the web felt adequate and didn’t seem to require stitches. The incomplete piece was still beautiful enough to warrant a backing, a pillow insert and, voilà, I now had a lovely throw pillow for my white wicker rocking chair and so it sat on my sunporch for fifty summers.

While homebound during the pandemic, I spent countless hours on the porch, so I decided this mystery pillow was calling for closure. I found my bag of floss, my needle and thimble and set to work on that project. A blue web grew with my embellishment. I added a touch of green to the goldenrod leaves and lastly, I created a huge monarch butterfly with a red abdomen and red antennae.

I worked on the stitchery for weeks. I wanted to please the mystery woman who almost finished the design. I could feel her presence. I am sharing her treasures.