May 25—It was during the Stone Age the last time the green comet, as astronomers nicknamed it, came zooming within sight of Earth.
But when that big ball of dust and ice finally returned amidst much fanfare in February — the first time it was visible from Earth in 50,000 years — the timing was perfect for the Bigony family of Berks County.
That appearance, the family believes, carried a message from the patriarch of the family, Ronald Bigony Sr. of Reading, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 89.
Bigony was famous around Reading for the classic car he drove, a jade green 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente that caught everyone's eyes.
He loved that car from the time he bought it in 1969, and he drove it every day for three decades before giving up his license. He also added personal touches such as the distinctive color he painted it, and the horn his father, Glenn Bigony, installed, which made an "ahooga" sound when he pressed it.
The car became a familiar sight in Berks.
Ronald Sr. drove it in holiday parades in Reading, cruised often to his favorite restaurants and made thousands of runs helping his three children with their Reading Eagle and Reading Times paper routes, when it was so weighed down with newspapers it nearly scraped the street.
"Everyone would yell, 'Here comes the Comet,' and yell for him to sound the horn. By the end of the parades I had a headache," his son, Gerald, 50, of Bern Township, said with a laugh.
He also drove it daily to his job, to pick up his wife, Eleanor, from work, and to get his kids after school, with just about everyone taking notice of his unique ride, his children said.
He even taught them all to drive in it.
"When he'd pick us up my friends would get excited to see it," Gerald said. "Everyone called him the Green Comet Guy."
Over the years the family moved from Reading to Temple and then Mohrsville, where the Comet remained after Ronald Sr. stopped driving. His son Ronald Jr., 60, lives there and promised to take care of it after his father died, keeping it exactly as his dad had it. It now has more than 200,000 miles on its original six-cylinder engine.
Early this year as Eleanor's health was worsening, she was moved to hospice care in a room at Reading Hospital.
Her sons and daughter, Jacqueline Bidden, 55, of Perry Township, were so focused on making her last days comfortable that they weren't even aware a comet with a hue similar to their dad's car would soon be visible in the northern hemisphere.
But during the first week in February, as Ronald Jr. dozed off in a chair in his mom's hospital room, Gerald was there, too, half paying attention to the world news on television, with both of them holding her hands. Then Gerald heard something that got his attention.
"We have an amazing story tonight about a green comet," NBC anchor Lester Holt said, and Ronald couldn't believe his ears.
For months Eleanor knew the end was approaching and said often that she was ready, and that Ronald Sr., whom she was married to for nearly 60 years, was calling her home, her sons said.
So the rare astronomical event now occurring had to be a sign from him that he was heading there to be by her side, Gerald thought.
"That car was such a big part of their lives, and now he was coming to pick her up one last time," he said.
He woke up his brother, who immediately agreed.
"It stunned us. And we were crying, because we knew what it meant," Ronald Jr. said. "He was coming to get her. It was phenomenal. "
Two days later their mom died peacefully at the age of 78.
As the brothers shared that story with hospital workers, friends and funeral home staff, everyone agreed the green comet in the sky brought a sign from their dad, they said.
"They all thought it was amazing," Ronald said.
The Bigony family will keep the car forever, they said, vowing there they would not part with it for any price.
"That car meant the world to my dad. When we see it, we see him," Gerald said. "We wouldn't sell it for $10 million."
Their dad's passion for that special vehicle instilled similar love in his children, all of whom have owned classic cars of their own, Mustangs and Firebirds among them.
And now the children share a story and a memory about a different kind of comet, one they know in their hearts connected their mom and dad forever.