I blame my shoe obsession on my cousin Sheila. Because of her, I haven't thrown out a pair of shoes in 30 years. It's next to impossible to open my closet doors due to an array of shoes in every color and style.

Sheila started me off on the wrong foot. She was the sister I never had. I was 10 when she first educated me to the ways of the world.

"Don't instill your value system on my daughter," my mother implored, "she'll grow up thinking that shopping is the most important thing in life."

"Isn't it?" Sheila asked, pulling a couple of boxes out of a Niemen Marcus bag.

"Shoes are an aphrodisiac," Sheila once told me. "They arouse desire, and can change a woman's life."

Sheila had a shoe collection that rivaled everyone except for her mother, my Aunt Rose. Together they made quite a team.

"You can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear," Aunt Rose said. "If they're scuffed, if the heels are worn, or the soles have holes, those are telltale signs that the person has major problems."

As she grew older Sheila became a stickler for color-coordinated ensembles. If she carried a black handbag she wore black shoes; a navy handbag, navy shoes, and so on. Once, she carried a polka dotted bag and didn't know whether to wear black or white shoes. These were the sort of dilemmas that caused a great deal of angst for Sheila and her mother.

Throughout my adolescence, I observed Sheila, vowing that when I reached her age I would follow in her footsteps.

Like her mother, Rose, Sheila had tiny, well-shaped feet that made my size 6-1/2 seem large by comparison.

"I've never seen such perfect feet," a salesman told Sheila when we shopping.

"I have my mother's feet," Sheila beamed.

"You can wear all our sample size 5," he said, and basking in the glow of his remark, Sheila bought out the store.

"Who cares about feet, anyway?" I once asked Sheila when we were on one of our shopping sprees. I was 12 years old, and Sheila had just turned twenty-two.

"Are you kidding, darling? Feet are everything." She slipped on a gold sandal. "Face it, toots, I have feet women would kill for."

The salesman presented her with a box containing imports from some exotic land. They were covered in silk, and embroidered in the most beautiful fabric I had ever seen. Sheila salivated and laid out the 500 bucks. She wore them twice: once, to her first wedding and again, to her second, at which I was a bridesmaid.

"Just don't get married again," Aunt Rose said. "These shoes won't survive another wedding."

With that, Sheila handed them down to me. Considering them to be "bad luck shoes," I threw them in the garbage.

After that Sheila and I went our separate ways. The last time we saw each other was at a family reunion. Her feet were adorned with strappy sandals that must have cost a bundle, while I had on a pair of heels that were 10 years old. Sheila looked down at my feet.

"Those shoes are out of date," Sheila whispered in my ear. "Rounded toes are no longer in, sweetie. Stiletto-toed shoes are the way to go."

I wanted to tell her to keep her shoes to herself, but I kept my cool.

"You never did get the whole shoe thing," she said.

I watched Sheila turn on her pointy Manolo Blahniks and walk away. Then, in a moment of accidental embarrassment, she tripped and fell into the tray, upsetting a bowl of guacamole. Her feet flew in the air as she let out a scream that reverberated through the room. Sheila lay in a heap, her ankle twisted as Aunt Rose, well into her 80s, grabbed Sheila's shoes, which were now stained a permanent avocado green.

I sat back on my round-toed, out-of-fashion heels and had the laugh of my life: Sheila's shoes had finally betrayed her. Revenge never smelled so sweet.

Judith Marks-White's "The Light Touch" appears each Wednesday. She may be reached at joodth@snet.net of at www.judithmarks-white.com