I’ve always been a little embarrassed about living in the fancy part of town. For one thing, it’s the fancy part of town. Also, everyone hates the Park Cities. I guess it’s because of all the rich people. It’s awkward. When asked where they live, I have heard my daughters answer “near Mockingbird and Preston,” or “in the central part of Dallas.” I get it. Who wants the judgment?
Granted, whoever named it Beverly Drive did us no favors, and the fact that I live on Versailles Avenue creates endless opportunities for derision, especially from New York friends, who tend to double over when I give them my address. (“Of course you live on Versailles — ha ha ha.”) And it’s true, our neighborhood shopping center does not have a pharmacy or a hardware store but, hey, we do have Chanel, Akris, Hermes, and Dior.
I told you it was fancy.
Enough. It’s super easy and hardly original to mock rich people in the Park Cities. The fact is, I consider myself lucky to live here and especially to have raised my daughters here. It’s a bit of a dream to live in a real neighborhood, with sidewalks and leafy trees and tidy yards. It’s the kind of place where you get a call at 11 p.m. from the Highland Park police because you left the garage door open and might want to close it. It’s a place where people deliver homemade cherry pies when you move in and have block parties just because. Where doorbells ring with Boy Scouts calling, selling something you don’t want but will buy, happy to do it. The Park Cities is idyllic in its ordinary moments, just like any small town. The only difference is that most of the people who live here have it made.
And there is something else. We have a real, operative public school system here. I think Highland Park ISD is what saves this little town from being a Real Housewives series. Because if there is one thing that people value more than money in the Park Cities, it’s their children. And if there is one thing that parents want their children to know, it’s the value of hard work. I’m not a WASP, but I think this might be a WASP thing. The fact is that the people in the Park Cities work like hell. Children in the Park Cities work like hell. And when you live in a small town, with four elementary schools, and one middle school, and one high school, both children and parents spend years together. They spend years together working their tails off. And it is the work ethic espoused here that balances out the insane privilege and wealth.
Go to a Highland Park football game this fall, and you will understand what I am talking about. Most of the high school students are there: whether in the bleachers, or playing in the band, or cheering, or dancing for the drill team. On the field, a long line of junior and senior boys wearing football uniforms are game-ready, even though only a handful will play. All of them have worked for months, through the deadly heat of summer, under major duress, mostly just to stand on the sidelines with their team. They work hard because effort and showing up — not wealth, not even playing time — is the real currency here.
I suppose that this is not unique to the Park Cities. And perhaps I am romanticizing a town filled with free enterprisers. But here’s what I am certain of: my children and their friends learned great lessons growing up in Highland Park. They were out the door between 5 and 6 in the morning, every single day, to train, study, and participate in a jillion activities. They worked from dawn to midnight. Today they are emboldened, well-rounded, happy adults who know that they can work their way, and persevere, through most of life’s challenges. No matter what.
That is why I am grateful to live here. Community can be with you, or not. On my own, I never could have instilled in my daughters the virtues of discipline, and hard work, and its worth. I never could have kept them focused — with all of the many distractions in the universe — if the culture of our little town hadn’t been so supportive, so consistent, so old-fashioned. Because it does take a village. Even if it is Highland Park Village.
Christine Allison, president of D Magazine Partners, has lived in Highland Park since 1995.