When Halley Came to DeQueen

I’m on a flight from Atlanta to Seattle and then on to Anchorage for a few days of customer visits.  I got to wondering if I could see the Northern Lights while I am there.  Maybe.  If I get up in the middle of the night and it’s clear, the forecast is good for this week.

That reminded me of the time that Aunt Bettie told me about seeing Halley’s Comet.  Bettie Higgs Finney was born in 1903 in DeQueen, Sevier County, Arkansas.  She was my grandmother, Mary Higgs Wren’s, older sister.  Aunt Bettie was one of the most cheerful people I have ever met.  No matter what her circumstance, and they were not always happy times, she would quote from Psalm 103:2.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.  After losing her husband, after losing her son, after having a stroke, still Bless the Lord, O my soul.

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Bettie Higgs Finney, 1989

The picture at the top of this post is Bettie.  I never would have known when I found this picture who it was, if not for the fact that Aunt Bettie told me about having her picture made as a little girl in a pretty new dress, holding it out to the side.

One time, she and we were all at my grandmother’s house in Wilson, Arkansas (the one at on the banner of this blog).  It was in 1986, when Halley’s Comet was passing near the earth. After supper, we were sitting around the table in the dining room, like we always did and the topic of the comet came up. Aunt Bettie told me about the when she saw Halley’s Comet for the first time when it came by in 1910 with her father.

Bettie and Mary, along with their parents Will and Nan Higgs, their sister Lida, and brothers Morton and Jere Will, lived in DeQueen, Arkansas.  Like I said, Bettie was born there, as was Mary.  The other kids were born around Arkansas as their father Will moved from newspaper to newspaper.  He worked at and ran a number of newspapers around Arkansas and then Oklahoma.  More about the newspaper business and the rest of the family another day.

Halley came closest and was most visible in April 1910.  Just a few weeks after standing outside in the starlit night, watching the comet with Bettie, Will took a job with a   newspaper in Idabel, Oklahoma.  He started work there in May 1910 but the rest of the family didn’t move there until September 1913.  During that time, they commuted back and forth the 40 miles between the two to visit.  Either Nannie or Aunt Bettie told me that he felt like Idabel was just a little to rough around the edges for three young girls in 1910, Oklahoma only having become a state a few years previous.

I wonder if Will knew he was about to be separated from his family when he stood out in the night air with Bettie.

Anyway, years later, Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song called When Halley Came to Jackson (you can find it here on YouTube).  Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to the dining room, sitting around the table with Aunt Bettie and Nannie in Wilson that night.  In the song, a father holds his little daughter and watches the comet in 1910.  He makes a wish that night that she will see Halley again.  And “in 1986 that wish came round.” Just like Bettie and Will on that DeQueen night.

I wrote  a letter to MCC to tell her the story of Aunt Bettie.  Only time I’ve ever written to a performer.  And you know what?  I got a really nice, handwritten letter in reply.  A special story about a special lady.

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