03/07/2012 12:26 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Stole My... Aunt's Earrings

We all have items in our closet that originally belonged to someone else, be it a family member, friend, friend of a friend or an ex. In Stylelist's new column "I Stole My..." we confess to our crimes, revealing the item that we love so much, we'd do a little jail time.

Unable to resist the lure of sale racks, my Great-Aunt Sarah would spend every weekend in department stores like Wanamaker's and Lord & Taylor. She had amassed enough fur coats, kitten heels, Sunday hats and perfume bottles to completely fill her three bedroom row home in Philadelphia. Yet, in the midst of her fashion hoard, I was always drawn to the tiny gems spilling out of her jewelry box.

There were pearl studs and necklaces, gold chain bracelets, tassel earrings, cocktail rings and silver watches that Sarah would pile on to wear at the breakfast table or on the front pew at church. As my Grandmother Annie Ruth would say, "She was something else!"

My great-Aunt Sarah's earrings. Photo: Bobby Doherty

When I was 15, my mother and I took a train from South Carolina to visit Sarah. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and could no longer live alone. Separated from all of her glamorous possessions, we spent an entire weekend packing things to put in storage.

I had been ordered to the kitchen along with my cousin Junior to box up housewares, but as I carefully wrapped dishes with old newspaper, I began to plan how I'd get my hands on Sarah's white and gold gemstone earrings. Hours passed and I could hear the women in my family on the floor above shuffling around and sharing old stories. It was the perfect time to "use the bathroom."

Tiptoeing up the stairs and sneaking pass the master bedroom, I made my way to the end of the hall where a small guest room held my great-aunt's jewelry box. Getting to the goods wasn't easy as I had to climb over plastic bins containing comforter sets and bath towels. But once I opened the wooden case, I found the earrings underneath a stack of buttons. I tucked them into the back pocket of my jeans and made a fast break for the kitchen.

When saying my goodbyes to Sarah, I wondered if she had an inkling that I had swiped a pair of her earrings. It wasn't until my senior prom that I actually wore them. With my hair in a braided updo, those earrings drew lots of oohs and aahs that night.

I eventually confessed to the crime during my recent move to Philadelphia. Initially scolding me for doing the unimaginable, my mother couldn't help but burst into laughter as we remembered my well-dressed, great-aunt.

Have something to say? Be sure to check out Stylelist on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.