Life is quiet in the Groot household these days, too quiet if you ask Debra Groot.
“Our home is too empty without you,” Debra said at her mother’s, Clara Mayhanagian, celebration of life service on Thursday at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, which also happened to be Clara’s 90th birthday. “I told my mom when she lived with us that we needed to put in a revolving door.”
For months, the knocks on the Groot’s front door, the ringing of the phone and the buzzing of the iPad have become familiar (constant) sounds in their home. Everyone—friends, family, former employees—wanted to check in on Clara.
“She was someone who made you family right away,” shared Michael, Debra’s husband and Clara’s son-in-law. “I was never the son-in-law. I was always ‘son number two.’”
Clara spent a lifetime spreading joy and bringing smiles to people with her family’s food concession business. After fleeing the Armenian genocide during WWI, her family immigrated to the United States and started May’s wagon in 1921. The business has always been a family affair.
Clara followed in her parents’ footsteps and even had her own popcorn wagon for a couple years with her longtime friend, Margie. A hard worker, Clara pulled the wagon to the fairs herself until she was 87 years old, often working seven days a week while moving from one fair to the next. She worked fairs in Allegan, Hillsdale, Adrian, Cassopolis, Ionia, Detroit and the Tulip Time Festival, where she worked as a vendor for more than 70 years. May's Popcorn was a cornerstone of the festival.
“When you worked with Clara, you knew you were going to do the job well,” said Mary, Clara’s former employee, during the visitation. “There was no cutting corners with her. She was such a wonderful woman and a very hard worker. Even into her eighties, she’d work a 12-hour day without stopping.”
“My mom never got old,” Debra said. “She just got sick.”
Even after Clara was diagnosed with cancerous brain tumors in 2017, she didn’t “sit down and take it,” said Faith Hospice Chaplain Dewey Thompson. “She kept working and doing concessions.”
While Clara loved selling her famous caramel corn, caramel apples and other goodies, her favorite part of the business was always the people. If you’ve met Clara, then she’s most certainly called you “honey;” she called everyone “honey.”
“Her love…you couldn’t help but get run over by it,” said Thompson.
That was clearly evident by the packed chapel and overflow room on Thursday. Friends and family shared stories about Clara, “a little lady with a powerful influence,” listened to Scripture readings from Psalm 91, Romans 8 and Revelation 20, sang together the last song Clara sang in her final days, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and listened to a message of hope by Thompson.
“Clara loved the Lord with all of her heart and that makes all the difference today,” said Thompson, who encouraged everyone to spread “a little honey along the way”in their lives.
The family decided to do a natural (or green) burial for Clara. A green burial is one that uses only biodegradable materials. A natural burial utilizes simple, sustainable materials so that nature may take its course following the natural rhythms of life.
“This was all a work of love by her family,” said Life Story Funeral Director Paul Uzarski. “The family participated in every step of the process, even helping to wash and prepare Clara’s body.”
Instead of being placed in a casket, Clara was wrapped in a natural silk shroud and lowered into the burial vault at Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery. Her family dropped rose petals, pine branches and shovelfuls of dirt into her grave as a final tribute to the woman whose bright smile, energy and love won’t soon be forgotten.