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I found myself in a dilemma the other day when I returned, after a long hiatus, to kindergarden. The occasion was a Mad Hatter's tea party, to which I had been invited as the "special friend" of my next-door neighbor, Phoebe Nixon. I have a friend who used to decline most invitations saying, with an ironic twinkle in his eye, that he never goes anywhere he hasn't been before. I was understanding his wish to be on familiar grounds the morning of the party when I donned my favorite hat, as special friends had been instructed to do, and set off.

Going to school, for whatever reason, is a lot like riding a bicycle. In this case, it was childhood fears that returned to me: Would I fit in? Would I be the only one wearing a hat? Was I wearing the right kind of hat or would everyone have called each other that morning and decided to wear something more casual, like a baseball cap? I considered turning my flowered boater backwards, but, frankly, backwards doesn't work as a fashion statement without the bill. Taking a deep breath, I parked my car and headed in to school.

As it turned out, the cafeteria was bursting with bonnets, crowded with cloches, deluged with derbies, filled with finery--all crowning the heads of grandmas, elegant women, no-nonsense women, women with a sense of humor, and a handful of grandfathers and uncles who did not accept the millinery challenge with as much gusto. With the exception of one brave young man in a suede fedora, they had all donned sports caps. (See-they did call each other that morning.) You can tell a lot about people, I began to realize, by how they choose to top off their heads. Maybe that's why folks don't wear hats as much as they used to. Statements have moved to the more literal messages on T-shirts and bumper stickers--messages that exclaim your politics, religion, and anger. Hats, on the other hand, are more subtle conveyers of personality. For one thing, they're not in your face. You have to read them, interpret them, ponder them for what they reveal--which is a process made easier, of course, when you're wearing your thinking cap.

Hats may be the only sign not encountered by Tommy Ehrbar in his essay, "Sign Language." Tommy's stories are famous around here for their epic sweep. It used to be that he only had to go back as far as ancient Greece to ground his stories. Last year, he found it necessary to begin at the birth of the cosmos. In "Sign Language," he found roots more modest and local, beginning with the geography of Pittsburgh's beloved three rivers. Look for his contribution on page 26. Other features not to be missed include Vicki Glembocki's cover profile of Kimberly Camp ("Artifacts of Life"), Mark Collins's look at the information superhighway ("Under Construction"), and former staffer Laura Shefler's look at the surprising changes to our med school curriculum in "The Best Medicine."

As we were going to press, we were thrilled to learn that Pitt Magazine had received a gold medal in the national CASE competition for university magazines--our sixth in seven years. (Last year we took a silver.) Hats off to my Pitt Magazine colleagues and contributors--and to you, our readers, whose appreciation and support makes it possible for us to do our best work.


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