It has been years since I officially left, driving down the long gravel road that led away from where I grew up.

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As I left for college, that drive — my last as a permanent resident of “home” — didn’t seem momentous, but it was.

And I have been back, sometimes for weeks while I was in college and sometimes for days just to visit. But home is never the same after you’ve left.

Two of my sisters still live nearby, one a few miles away and another a few hours. They see each other frequently. Their kids play together. They talk. They get along. They watch out for each other and for my parents.

My parents still live in the home, which today is remarkably like it was back then, with lots of rolling green lawn and shade trees and places to sit and think.

Way back when I left for college, I didn’t look back. I had big plans, and like so many things that are overly familiar, leaving home wasn’t traumatic or cataclysmic. It was, I thought then, just inevitable.

And as I moved first to Chicago and then to Dallas, with a stopover in Florida for a few months, I didn’t look back, either. My mom and dad would, from time to time, point out that sometimes people decide, as life rolls on, that where you started is a good place to wind up.

But by then, I had married a Texas girl, and we had a couple of Texas kids, and I was working at a Texas business, so the time for a permanent return to where it all began seemed to have passed.

I thought about all of this as I read our magazine’s story this month about multi-generational families living next door and down the street from each other. Having grandma living nearby to see the grandkids, and having dad next door to help repair the leaking toilet aren’t sexy aspects of a successful neighborhood or a family. But more than rising home prices and expensive strollers, those family bonds create a value for the families we talked with that can’t be duplicated.

The very idea of having family members scattered a few minutes away, something that at one time we may have laughed off, offers a certain charm and quaintness and priceless peace that’s hard to describe.

Had I known, as I drove down that dusty gravel road, what I know today about the importance of family, I might have thought twice about turning the key in the ignition. Life would have been different, but it wouldn’t automatically have been worse, as I no doubt would have told you back then.

As this month’s stories tell us, home and family — somewhat abstract terms to many of us — don’t have to be.