Karen Famularo knew that Les Morris was on that really early Sunday morning flight. With the TV news on, she feared the worst even before the phone rang.
From two doors down, Rick Queen was calling to tell her that Morris, his wife Marion’s father, had been on the plane that had just gone down at Blue Grass Airport.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
Rick then told her their immediate plans were to get to the airport.
The Famularos had been friends with the Queens for years. They were friends as well with Marion’s dad and his wife, Kaye, who was also on the plane.
To her husband, John, a friend and law colleague of Morris’, she said, “I’ve got to do something.”
So she got out a big basket and, panicked, “went through my cabinets.” She threw in large containers of Diet Coke, big rolls of toilet paper and paper towels and boxes of Kleenex and headed over to the Queens.
The Queens were out front with a few people. It was, maybe, 7:30 a.m.
She gave the basket to Marion, to help with all the people who were going to be coming.
Not much later, herded upstairs at Blue Grass Airport with a large and quickly assembled group of shocked survivors, Marion Queen saw her neighbor Jean Smith for the first time that sad morning.
They saw other people they knew there, too, in that hallway. Each one represented someone on Comair Flight 5191, a commuter plane that had come to an abrupt and horrible end just before dawn on a field just beyond its short runway.
Each one represented a family, of course. But also a neighborhood.
In the case of the Queens and the Smiths, it was a single neighborhood.
On August 27, 2006, Chenault Road woke up to its worst day.
And its finest hour.
Pat Smith had left for the airport by himself. Jean got up with her 3-year-old grandson — she was baby-sitting for her daughter who was in Indianapolis for a wedding — and was making breakfast and watching cartoons when a friend called about 7 and told her to turn on the TV news.
Jean called her son, who lives in town, first. Then she called her best friends and neighbors, the Meegans. She needed someone to stay with her grandchildren.
Pat and Jean Smith moved onto Chenault Road in 1977 when their older child was in kindergarten. It was then, as now, a nice mix of younger couples and older couples. The five or six younger couples on the one end of the street — it has two blocks, 63 homes altogether — used to regularly have progressive dinners, even go on vacations together. Pat was the first president of the neighborhood association and remained so for years.
Every year, the street has a Memorial Day picnic, complete with a children’s bike parade and a water balloon toss. There’s the street-wide garage sale and usually some Christmas caroling. They have a neighborhood directory and a phone tree, in case of emergency.
The diversity of ages on the street means, says Mary Leta Wells, “that it’s like a family without being a family.”
Jennifer Smith, Pat and Jean’s daughter, had baby-sat for the Wells’ girls when they were little. In turn, Alicia Wells baby-sat for Jennifer’s babies. Alicia now rents a home from the Smiths a few blocks away.
“We’re a little intertwined,” says Mary Leta Wells.
She was the one who got the phone call about the crash from the Meegans about 8 a.m. The Meegans had been afraid that Alicia, somehow, would hear the news before her mother could tell her. That is not how they thought Alicia, whom they had known since she was a child, should find out.
Thus began the circulation of news up on the 100 block.
Up and down the street, there was silence. People either didn’t know yet or were simply waiting to hear more.
“You want to do something,” says Karen Famularo. “You don’t know what to do. You want to offer help. But you don’t want to intrude. It felt too private.”
Some had gone to church for solace. Like Tony and Brenda Barrett, who had spoken to Rick Queen about 9, then gone to 11 a.m. Mass at Christ the King only to be told by the rector that Pat Smith was also on board.
Rumor was, by this time, that one person had survived. Chenault Road figured it was probably Pat. He could figure anything out. Or Les. He was older but really wise about a lot of things.
By noon, Chenault Road was filling up with cars.
The families of the victims, having been told very little by Comair officials, had come home, in shock.
At the Smiths, with small children around, it was getting mildly chaotic.
“I couldn’t have stood the quiet,” says Jean Smith. “The people around kept me going.”
Jean says those days are lost to her. Her children attended the endless rounds of meetings about the crash. Her neighbors handled so much of everything else. She is almost unsure what that entailed.
In a kind of extended limbo and paralyzing shock, the familiar view of the shade trees, the stone and brick houses and the welcoming front porches of Chenault Road, the view that she could see out her front door, kept her sane.
At the Queens, aside from the constant ringing of the phone, the people were around but the chaos was kept at bay.
Marion and Rick Queen are a blended family, having lived together in their house on the cul-de-sac for a dozen years. Before they were married, they lived in separate houses on the block with their five children who are now 21 (twins), 18, 16 and 13.
“There was a lot of silence,” remembers Marion. “Nobody could believe what was happening. People would go upstairs and just sit in the kids’ rooms with them until finally their friends would ask permission to get them out of here.”
Coffee arrived. Food. Flowers. The media. Neighbors took turns answering the door, moving things around Marion’s refrigerator to make room for additional food, keeping careful track of what was brought in and by whom, knowing full well that Marion would want to thank people later.
The dog got walked, though no one remembers who thought of it.
The news rolled in very slowly, Rick remembers. There was another Comair meeting scheduled that night.
That routine would go on for days. The kindnesses would multiply.
A neighbor’s ex-husband happened to be Les Morris’ dentist, so the neighbor arranged for delivery of dental records to the coroner. One day, the Queens came home to find their lawn mowed. A neighbor who hardly knew the Smiths offered to stay in the house during Pat’s funeral for security and safekeeping.
Karen Famularo says that sometimes she’d just knock on the door, walk in and all these people would be at the house and she wouldn’t recognize any of them. But she’d go into the Queens’ kitchen, see whether anything needed to be done, do it and quietly leave.
Then there was the matter of the never-ending food.
There was, says Mary Leta Wells, “so much grief. Everybody loved both families. We were passionate about taking care of them. They have families and other friends. We got together and said we’ll just organize the meals until they don’t want them anymore.”
So Mary Leta Wells took the Smith end of the street and Ivy Moore and Brenda Barrett took the Queen end and for six weeks food showed up at the right time, at the right temperature, for the right amount of people at each house.
It wasn’t just the neighborhood people who wanted to help. So the list grew to include people from IBM, where the Smiths’ son-in-law worked, and from Christ the King.
“People called us,” says Mary Leta. “It wasn’t like we had to look for people to fill a schedule. We had too many offers.”
“I froze a lot,” says Jean now. “Eating it later was really nice, though.”
A month after the crash, Jean asked them to stop.
Six weeks after the crash, Marion asked them to stop.
Eventually, even the neighborhood’s annual Labor Day party, postponed because of the crash, was rescheduled. That was done by Rick Queen, the guy convinced by Pat Smith to take over the presidency of the neighborhood association when he stepped down a few years ago.
Two years is not a lot of time in the life of a neighborhood that has stood since the 1930s. It is certainly not a lot of time if you are Jean Smith or Marion Queen.
Mary Leta Wells says that the plane crash “will remain a part of the story of this neighborhood” as long as it stands.
Jean Smith’s next-door neighbor, Roger Bailey, started taking out her trash cans two years ago and continues to do so. She is inordinately grateful for that.
Of those first hours and days after the tragedy, she says, “My neighbors took over my house and ran it. I don’t know if I fully expressed my gratitude. I think it was their way of grieving for him, too.”
To this day, Marion Queen teases Karen Famularo about her first response.
“What was up with the Diet Coke and paper goods?”
Famularo likes the think that “it was all too sad and it was the first useful thing I could think of.”
Turns out it was useful.
Turns out, says Famularo, “it’s still too sad.”