The Trader Joe’s on East Stadium Boulevard reminds me of my mom.
Every August, we’d make the two-hour drive from Grand Rapids so I could get my heart checked at Michigan Medicine. I was born with right pulmonary stenosis, a serious diagnosis turned into minor inconvenience with a routine operation when I was 18 months old. The only real consequence was the annual trip to Ann Arbor to make sure everything was still okay.
Still, I used to dread those trips. Dreaded the car ride, the questions from nurses, the poking and prodding and the overwhelming fear that this time, something was wrong. But nothing ever was. We were always lucky.
After every trip, my mom would bring me to the Trader Joe’s on East Stadium and let me pick out whatever candy I wanted. Tucked in the back of a tiny strip mall, I was always amazed at the brightness of it all. An array of fresh flowers always greeted us as we walked in, followed by colorful produce and handwritten signs. The staff, when we went to check out, would always greet us with big smiles and warm affirmations.
We’d make our way down the candy aisle and I would stop and look at everything. All of the candies were decorated in sparkling packaging that gave it a sense of novelty — like they weren’t available anywhere else in the world. Scandinavian Swimmers. Joe’s O’s. Cinna Dragons. Fruit Jellies. It seemed like something out of Willy Wonka.
I would spend what seemed like an eternity in that aisle as my mom filled the cart with things she said she just couldn’t get back home. She’d come back, pull me close, and tell me I could pick two things if I really wanted. One for me and one for you, she’d say. I’d hug her and put both candies in my cart.
I stopped having to go to those appointments regularly after I turned 12, and our trips to the Ann Arbor Trader Joe’s became less frequent. Those trips as a kid were my first experience of Ann Arbor. When the first Trader Joe’s opened in Grand Rapids in 2015, we went together and strolled through the aisles like we used to. The flowers were there, the walls were the same pale yellow, the staff was as nice as always — but it still didn’t feel the same.
Now, when I shop at the Ann Arbor Trader Joe’s as a student here at the University of Michigan, I think of my mom and those trips in early August. Everytime I walk past the candy aisle I feel like I’m the same 8 year-old looking in wonderment at all the options and thinking I’m in a Roald Dahl novel. Even now, I always grab two sets of candy. One for me, and one for her.
Daily News Editor George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.