With those magenta and purple bangs, there wasn’t much doubt who the next speaker was.
“I have a confession to make. This isn’t my natural hair color,” said Mamie Hunter, who at the tender age of 15 found herself eulogizing her big sister, Frankie Abernathy, on Saturday.
The line got a laugh – Abernathy, a former star of the MTV series “The Real World,” was known for her hair-color experiments – but Mamie soon turned serious, and the tears started to flow.
“Every day that I knew Frankie, I grew a little more colorful inside,” she told an overflow crowd at Webb-Freer Funeral Home in Blue Springs.
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“Her vibrance, it dyed me forever.”
Abernathy, 25, suffered from the lung disease cystic fibrosis, which is what her family assumes killed her, although the Milwaukee County, Wis., medical examiner hasn’t yet ruled on a cause of death. Abernathy, who had moved with her family from Blue Springs to the Milwaukee area last fall, was found dead at home June 9.
Like Abernathy herself, the hourlong memorial service was a bit off the beaten path. It started with the rock song “Spirit in the Sky”: “When I die and they lay me to rest / Gonna go to the place that’s the best ”
Displays included not just photos of the tattoo-lovin’, multi-pierced Abernathy – who once graced the cover of a “tattoo lifestyle mag” – but also a jar of pickles and some high-style platform shoes, things she loved.
Her father, Joe Abernathy of Hye, Texas, ticked off some other favorites: “Sleeping late. Cheese. Italian food. Clothes. Her cat.” She also was a big fan of music, all kinds. Harleys, too, a passion shared by her dad.
And Hello Kitty, the icon of which appeared in the printed program.
Joe Abernathy recalled being told of his daughter’s disease when she was just a tot. Her life expectancy then: 28.
But despite all the baggage of cystic fibrosis – the medications, breathing treatments, IV antibiotics – “she never let it get in the way or define her,” her father said.
In keeping with Frankie’s penchant for spinning a good yarn, her stepdad, Perry Hunter, told a couple of funny stories about her.
Her mother, Abbie Hunter, said she’d thought about doing the same but wanted instead to make everyone feel better about her daughter’s death.
In the last year Abernathy had gotten “sicker, a lot sicker.” She couldn’t walk far without running out of breath.
One sign that something was wrong: A six-pack of beer sat in Abernathy’s fridge for two weeks, Hunter said. “Any of you who used to party with Frankie knows that would never, ever happen.”
In November 2005, a doctor told Abernathy she’d be lucky to see her 24th birthday Dec. 21, let alone New Year’s. But Abernathy not only proved the doctor wrong, she won a bet she made with him – dinner at Applebee’s. And she rang in the new year of 2006 at home.
Dying at home, instead of in a hospital bed, was “the best possible situation,” Abbie Hunter said.
Abernathy’s body was cremated. Her family gave some of the ashes to her best friend, Blair Buckley of Overland Park. Buckley told The Star she’ll put the ashes in ink to get tattooed with: a duplicate of a cat tattoo Abernathy had on her neck, and Abernathy’s name and a clover on her hand.
Though both were in relationships with men, Buckley said she and Abernathy exchanged vows and bracelets on a gondola ride in Las Vegas last February. They’d talked about having a child together.
Abernathy appeared on “The Real World: San Diego” in 2004. She left San Diego before filming ended, partly because she said she missed her boyfriend, Dave Duly. At the service Duly, a tattoo artist, sat on the floor at the rear of the chapel, often with his head down. Some people, told they have a fatal illness, choose to live cautiously, her mother told mourners. Not Frankie.
“She knew that she had to fill up her life, and she did.”
To contribute to the Frankie Abernathy Scholarship Fund, send checks made out to Blue Springs High School NFL (National Forensics League) to: Blue Springs High School, c/o Jackie Langston, 2000 N.W. Ashton Dr., Blue Springs, Mo. 64015.