On June 27, 1986 I lost my grandmother’s necklace. It was the summer after my junior year in high school and I’d gone to see the Violent Femmes at Summerfest in Milwaukee. It was a great show and even with people pushing and shoving me all night, it’s still my all-time favorite concert. When I got home, I realized the necklace was gone. It was my sole inheritance from my grandma, and I was devastated.
My great-grandfather made the unique necklace for her when she was a teenager. He’d combined delicate gold and silver chains, twisting them together with lovely little black onyx beads every few inches. Hanging from the necklace was a small, beautifully crafted silver filigree medallion within a thin circle of gold with tiny silver leaves dangling along the bottom edge.
Until the PTA meeting last month, I’d always assumed I hadn’t fastened it properly and it fell off at some point during the concert. As the board droned on and on about the upcoming fundraiser for new band uniforms, I looked around the room and saw Marie Tavat sitting across the aisle from me wearing my grandmother’s necklace. I was stunned.
It had been more than 20 years since I’d last seen it, but I recognized it immediately. I tried not to stare and made up an excuse to talk to her when the meeting ended so I could get a good look at it just to be sure.
There was no question. It was my grandma’s necklace.
I quietly explained the situation to my best friend Krista Lofstrom and asked her to see what she could find out about how Marie got it. Krista knows her better than I do because their daughters are good friends.
I watched as the two of them chatted at the refreshment table, inhaling sharply as Marie’s smile disappeared when she looked down and touched the medallion. She seemed agitated and started gesturing as she continued talking to Krista.
It turns out Marie was something of a master thief during high school. She told Krista she’d once walked into a store barefoot and walked out in a new pair of shoplifted shoes. She’d even stolen a leather jacket from a major department store in the local mall and apparently kept shopping the rest of the afternoon while wearing it.
She’d been drunk the night of the concert, noticed the unusual necklace on a random girl in the crowd and decided she wanted it. One of her friends repeatedly pushed her into the girl so she could unhook the necklace and take it.
Krista insisted Marie was ashamed of her behavior as a teenager and she wore the necklace now as a reminder never to repeat the misdeeds of her past and, more importantly, as a symbol of how much she’d changed for the better since then.
Despite Krista’s claims Marie was a different person now, I hate to admit I wanted to exact some form of revenge on her for so casually and cruelly stealing my inheritance all those years ago.
That necklace belonged to my family. It was mine! I knew I had to get it back.
It took me a few days to hatch my plan. I didn’t tell anyone about it, not even my husband or Krista.
Everything hinged on Marie attending my Christmas cookie exchange wearing the necklace. I was nervous and excited when I got her RSVP.
On a cold, sunny Saturday afternoon in early December, my guests arrived. Evelyn Anderson brought her beloved cranberry oat crisps and Tina Stratford’s Oreo snowballs were sure to be a hit. Krista proudly set the tray of her Swedish great-grandmother’s amazing orange cookies next to Cara Miller’s beautifully decorated sugar cookies. As the others added their holiday baked goods to my dining room table, I put my platter of mint grasshopper brownies next to Suzanne Mando’s Hershey kiss peanut butter cookies.
It was such a festive, happy atmosphere I almost felt guilty about my ulterior motive for hosting the party. When Marie arrived with her powder sugar dusted raspberry and cream cheese kolackies, she was wearing the necklace and I heaved a sigh of relief.
I secretly added liquid over-the-counter sleeping pills to both of Marie’s cranberry mimosas and later to her coffee. It took some time, but she eventually settled into my husband’s recliner in the corner of the family room next to the twinkling Christmas tree and drifted off to sleep.
The rest of the ladies were in the dining room just beginning to select the cookies they wanted to take home.
After making sure I was alone with Marie, I cautiously approached her and carefully removed the necklace. I felt both elated and uneasy. I hurried to my bedroom, pulled my small ‘good stuff’ jewelry case out from under the bed and put my grandmother’s necklace in its rightful place.
I joined the others and filled my own container with a wide variety of delectable goodies.
Several of my guests noticed Marie napping; all of them were reluctant to wake her. Krista offered to select cookies for her to take home just as I noticed my brownie platter was empty.
Telling Krista to save some space, I headed to the kitchen for more brownies. I added a half dozen of them to Marie’s growing collection of treats and then refilled the platter.
Krista helped me clean up after the others left and we decided it was time to wake up Marie.
She was embarrassed and apologetic she’d fallen asleep. Both Krista and I told her she was being ridiculous. Who couldn’t use a little nap every now and again? We assured her it wasn’t an issue.
The three of us grabbed cups of coffee, then sat at the dining room table amiably sampling some of the remaining cookies and sipping the rich, dark coffee.
As they were leaving, Marie thanked Krista for putting together the assortment of cookies for her and apologized to me yet again for falling asleep during the party. I wished them both Happy Holidays and closed the door, watching as they got in their cars and drove away.
When they were gone, I ran up the stairs to my bedroom, got out my grandmother’s necklace and put it on. I hesitantly stepped over to the mirror above my dresser, admiring the necklace as I gently ran my fingers along the chain, finally touching the medallion my great-grandfather had worked so hard to create for his daughter.
I wondered if I should have tried to talk to Marie about it. If she really had changed since her five-finger discount days, maybe she would have simply returned it to me. I just wasn’t willing to take the chance that she wouldn’t give it back.
I had the necklace, but how could I ever wear it when it was so easily recognizable?
Marie called me later in the day. She’d lost her necklace and wondered if I’d look around my house, just in case she’d lost it here. She said she stopped a couple other places on her way home and had no idea when or where it fell off. After she described it to me, I assured her I would look for it.
As I hung up, I felt a twinge of guilt for knocking her out, but not for taking the necklace back. It was a family heirloom and it belonged to me.
Then my thoughts turned to the other thing I’d done; my cheeks burned with a combination of shame and satisfaction.
The brownies Marie took home were made with a very liberal amount of laxative mixed into the batter. I’d baked a separate pan just for her and made sure she was the only one who took home the ‘special’ brownies.
I almost felt guilty about it. Almost.