My Dear Aunty Billie

As you know, my Aunty Billie (along with my Nana, Avis, and Mum, Patsy) is the inspiration behind my kitchen creations. I spent many a school holiday in her kitchen in Wellington as a child, developing my love of cooking and sharing food with others from a young age.

I want to tell you a little about my dear Aunty Billie.

Aunty Billie was the most kind, generous and gracious lady, always giving and never accepting anything in return.

She was born in Reefton on the 29th of October 1919 a second daughter born to Mary and William McEwin. She was christened Alice Marion but called “Little Billie” even before her birth. Her dad, already having a daughter, made it well known he expected a son this time! She was always called Billie, and grew up in Hukarere with her sister, Avis (my Nana) and her younger brother Boxer. It was here where she first learned to cook for others, helping her mother run the family boarding house for the workers at the local sawmill where her father worked.

Billie left Ikamatua school at the age of 13 and helped her mother run of the boarding house. At 19 she left the West Coast, moving to Wellington to live with her Aunty Ethel. After attending Business College, she worked for the State Fire Insurance company by day and was an usher at the Embassy Theatre by night.

Aunty Billy was always fussy about the way she dressed and never went out without being properly dressed and wearing makeup and jewellery. If you were going with her, she would make sure you were properly dressed too.

Aunty Billie made friends wherever she went and at a dance she met Ted Howard, they married in 1946. Together they had two daughters Pauline and Kristine. The family continued to live on Adelaide road until they moved to Trentham where Aunty Billie ran a bookshop. Later in life Aunty Billie worked in a few different places; Whitcombe & Tombs, the Button factory and finally Lewis Drapery. Ted, Billie and their two girls eventually moved to Henry street in Upper Hutt. Down the track, her sister Avis and Avis’ husband (my Nana and Grandad) moved in just up the road.  

She was a great cook, always making something. She was famous for picnic pies, chocolate cakes, sultana cakes, banana cakes, huge pavlovas, and a seemingly never-ending supply of her special marmalade which took three days to make!  Hardly and of her creations ended up in her own home, most of it was given away to her many friends. Aunty Billie loved having people come to visit and everyone went away with something in their hand, be it some of her wonderful cooking or a plant stealthily taken from Uncle Ted’s glass house. Anything with a note was always signed “Love Billie”.

I will always remember my Wellington holidays as a child. My sisters and I would arrive at 29 Henry Street, say a quick hello to Nana and hurry off down to number 1 Henry Street to Aunty Billie’s. She would most likely already have something on the go and would always let you help and, of course, lick the bowl; I loved our holidays there.

Aunty Billie was one of those people who had green fingers she could grow anything from a tiny slip. I remember my Mum telling me stories about when my Nana Avis and Aunty Billie would go to the gardens together and their green fingers would become light fingers - many times their handbags would open to receive a piece of plant.

My last few weeks with her were special. My Mum and I picked her up from her home in Upper Hutt and we drove her south to live with Mum in Rangiora. We picked up her handwritten recipe books for the adventure ahead and had some lovely days talking about her life and her recipes. A highlight is when I drove her to the Cust Domain to watch a hot air balloon take flight. She was in awe of this beautiful sight. We had some laughs those last few weeks. Sadly, she passed away after only a short time with us, but we were lucky to have those memories.

We all loved Billie, she seemed to have a special attraction that endeared her to you. We especially loved and enjoyed her sense of humour and her dancing, her jokes and laughter, she was wonderful and will remain forever in our hearts.