When I worked as an elementary school principal, we had a lost and found box in front of the office. You would be surprised at some of the items that were discovered in there one sneaker, a book bag with the owner's name carefully imprinted on the outside, stuffed animal earmuffs, and a lunch box that felt full (none of us was brave enough to open it). The lost and found box was a burden to monitor.

Regularly, we made an announcement about lost items and encouraged students to go through the box. Parents knew that they could stop by and dig through the items when their child misplaced something.

At the end of the school year, we would put out all of the unclaimed items on the bleachers in the gym during lunch hour. We announced that it was the "last chance" to find lost belongings. We would discard any items that weren't claimed.

Most of the time, a great percentage of the lost items were claimed. Whether or not they actually belonged originally to the claimant is anyone's guess. We were just happy not to have to worry about getting rid of them.

One item that was in the lost and found box will remain in my memory forever. No, it wasn't the stinky lunch box (that was claimed the same week it was lost and I believe that the little guy ate that days-old lunch at recess lucky for him he didn't develop intestinal problems). The item that was memorable was a pigtail a real one. Apparently, it had been cut off someone's head.

One might think that a mother would call the school if her daughter arrived home with only one pigtail intact. Perhaps a teacher might have noticed that one of her students was missing half of her hair after recess? None of that happened. The single pigtail showed up in the lost and found box without any fanfare. No yelling or screaming, and no clue as to whose pigtail it was.

The pigtail had a bright pink bow tied on the end. It was tied over a rubber band. The cut end of the hair was beginning to unravel. The pigtail was probably 10 inches long, blonde, and shiny. We put the pigtail in an envelope and waited to see who might claim it.

At the end of the year, we put out the unclaimed items. The pigtail was one of them. It sat on the gym bleachers all alone. We watched and waited and wondered who would pick it up.

One of the lunch monitors came to my office and said, "The pigtail is causing a problem." I asked what was wrong. She said, "All of the kids are scared of it and think that someone died." So, I went into the lunchroom and took the pigtail off the bleachers and brought it to my office. I sat it on my bookcase and hoped that it wouldn't be there long.

At the end of the school year, there is a lot of disruption in an elementary school. Hamsters and gerbils have to be gathered up, art work gets transported carefully so that the glued macaroni and glitter don't get bumped, and children cry when they hug their teacher for the last time. This particular year, we also had the "Whose pigtail is it?" drama.

When all the children were gone and the school quieted down for the summer, I debated with myself about throwing the darn pigtail in the garbage. Something made me keep it on the bookcase. I'm glad I did.

A week after school was out, a mother came into my office. She asked for the pigtail. I handed it to her and waited for an explanation. She started to cry. Her 8-year-old son had taken the pigtail out of her memory box and brought it to school. His sister had died the year before and it was her hair. He thought if he took it to the lost and found box, maybe someone could use it. He didn't take both pigtails that were in the box, only one. He told his Mom that maybe a girl might need some pretty hair. His concern came from the fact that his sister had lost her hair during cancer treatment.

I thought about all the days that the pigtail had been sitting on the bleachers. That little donor guy must have watched it carefully, waiting for someone to pick it up and consider it a treasure. I said a silent prayer that he didn't know how the pigtail had freaked out some of the lunchroom kids.

When I handed the pigtail to the Mom, I gave her a hug and told her that she had a wonderful son a caring, sensitive boy. She cried a little harder, but smiled at me. She said, "He used to pull his sister's pigtails all the time."

As she left the office, she stopped by the lost and found box and touched it. That box never again seemed like a burden to me.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.