As the weather gets crisper and the leaves become streaked with crimson and orange, that can only mean one thing — it’s almost fall. Or, if you’re a fanatic like me, it’s the season when fall products adorn the shelves at Trader Joe’s. For many of you, it may just be another store but for me, visiting Trader Joe’s sparks years of wondrous yet mundane memories.
Just last week, I was strolling through the aisles of the store, feeling a rush from spotting the new products. As I placed new and familiar favorites — like the butternut squash mac and cheese — in my shopping cart, I couldn’t help but think back to my seven-year-old self. At that age, I stood a few feet shorter and had little world experience but I vividly remember frequenting the neighborhood Trader Joe’s with my family. Most shelves were unreachable, I knew nothing about cooking and yet, I was in love with the store.
My family and I started shopping at Trader Joe’s in 2008 when perhaps it wasn’t as widely known as it is today. At that age, I used to hate grocery shopping with my parents. It was such a chore to watch my parents buy the same fruits and vegetables — that is until we stumbled upon this particular grocery store, a place that gave out lollipops and stickers to make the act a little more colorful and a lot less monotonous. From that point on, I eagerly joined my parents on their Trader Joe’s runs. This has continued for over 14 years.
Before we knew it, going to Trader Joe’s became part of a weekly family ritual. Our frequency of trips increased from once or twice a month to at least once a week. My brother and I happily tagged along, particularly allured by the free coffee and food samples that were once everyday offerings. Moreover, the store brought about a literal tradition. Sometime in 2009, my parents started buying a delicious artisan bread pretty regularly. For the next 10 years until it was discontinued, my family had this bread — along with some chai — for breakfast together every Saturday and Sunday.
With my newfound tolerance for grocery shopping, I would also often tag along to the store with just my dad. In retrospect, those moments meant a lot. Due to his busy work schedule, my dad and I wouldn’t get to spend a lot of time together, so I often felt distant from and intimidated by him. Those Sunday afternoons at Trader Joe’s helped ease this fear and led to some needed quality time.
It certainly wasn’t life-changing, but Trader Joe’s helped to create and foster this common pastime within my family. I look back fondly at those simple memories. Now that I’m away at college, things have unsurprisingly shifted. While I may not share the same Trader Joe’s trips with my family as often, I do get to re-experience some of these little joys with my roommates.
Of course, trips to Trader Joe’s are not as nonchalant as they used to be due to having to budget and be self-sufficient. But even now, I still look forward to my weekly Trader Joe’s runs with my roommates at Stonefield. On most trips, we blast Taylor Swift on our way to the store. Sometimes, we share a cart. Usually, we point out new products or our lesser-known personal favorites — recent additions include pad thai and peanut butter cups — to one another. We listen and indulge in each other’s choices and enjoy the company.
In these moments, the nostalgic joy from my childhood sometimes creeps over. It was once only my family with whom I shared these grocery store trips with. Now, those family-specific moments are more sparse due to living far from one another. But, that warm feeling of wandering a familiar store I hold dear persists through the other people I’ve met and love.
Now, I know that Trader Joe’s is just a grocery store. It may be slightly more interesting than other grocery stores on average, but at its core, it’s still just a place where you shop for food. However, for me, it’s a wonderful reminder of the unique ways in which we build connections with one another and find ways to make even the most ordinary tasks extraordinary.
15 years ago, going to Trader Joe’s became an unexpected routine activity in my family. Now at college, it’s reminded me to savor the mundane moments as much as I can. Ups and downs in our lives are bound to occur, but these little moments constitute the more consistent parts of our lives. It’s okay and even good to romanticize life ever so often, even if all you’re really doing is your weekly grocery run.