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Like her mother, Airrington loves the Halloween season
ZOMBIE JAMES16-10-11-13-LT
Makeup/costume artist Cheryl Airrington, left, transformed James Burns into a zombie at DellOsso Farms in Lathrop. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Editor’s Note: This is a profile on florist and amateur makeup artist Cheryl Airrington, who was recruited to turn Managing Editor James Burns into a zombie for this weekend’s 209 edition.

Each year, when the wind begins to whip and the leaves begin to turn, Cheryl Airrington remembers her youth.

The Halloween decorations and elaborate costumes.

The pumpkins, cobwebs and front-yard haunted houses.

The black cauldron full of candy, and the popcorn dolls that would emerge from her kitchen for the neighborhood children.

“Back when you didn’t have to worry about homemade goodies,” she said.

Most of all, though, Airrington recalls the memories of her mother, Kay Byard – the friendliest witch this side of Oz.

Friday, Oct. 18, marks the 20th anniversary of Byard’s unexpected death, and the pain and confusion still bubble beneath the surface. Airrington breaks from conversation for a moment to reign in her emotions. Her mother loved Halloween – loved dressing up as a witch – the way a wide-eyed child might stare at a Christmas tree.

“People who know me really well,” she said, “know my tribute to Halloween is in memory of my mother.”

Airrington has sustained the family tradition, inheriting most of her Halloween costumes and decorations. She’s also developed a flare for the dramatic just like her mother.

One year, Airrington says she blanketed the front of her home with a thick layer of fog that appeared to some as smoke. The Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department responded to reports of a residential fire in no time, only to be turned away by Airrington.

“Whoa, boys,” she said. “There’s no fire here – just a fog machine.”

Last fall, Airrington took home a top award at a Soroptimist event for her costume. Fittingly, she arrived as a witch. “Even people who knew me didn’t know who I was,” she said.

Airrington is a true artist, whose passion and ability shine brightest during the gloomiest, spookiest month of the year.

She is a seasonal employee at Dell’Osso Family Farms for the past 15 years, where she works as a face painter among other duties. (For instance, she was charged with programming the cash registers and credit card machines, and has also helped out at the food stands.)

Airrington isn’t a classically trained artist, per se. Instead, her style was borne by fire – not from book.

Her sense of costumes has roots in the Tracy High theatre department and time spent as a manager with Spirit Halloween stores. Her ability to paint began as a volunteer at the Concord fall fest nearly two decades ago, and developed through the years.

 “I got assigned to a booth and painted faces all weekend,” she said. “They were doing it for free, so it was induction by fire.”

She offers a wide variety of full-face paintings, from zombies to werewolves, for only $5. And her carrying case contains all the extras that bring a costume or painting to life – bolts for Frankenstein, burned skin, dangling eyeballs and rubber warts and insects.

Whether it’s creating a floral arrangement for a wedding or transforming the healthy and alive into the walking dead, Airrington relishes the opportunity to be creative and whimsical.

“The arts, they’re relaxing. It’s an extension of you. You’re allowed to be creative and that’s fun,” she said.

“Being able to make people happy is what drives me. In any of the arts I do, they have to be fun, whether it’s face-painting or flowers.”

Airrington gets that from her mother, as well.

“I’ve always been somewhat artistic. My mother was an artist,” she said. “She could draw anything – I mean anything. She painted and was a seamstress and did all kinds of artsy stuff.

“Me and my siblings have been crafty our whole lives.”

209 staff reporter