Our company is deep seeded in family and tradition. Our authentic cherry spirits recipe comes from Oma herself…so we thought it was important to tell her story.
Oma (the German for grandmother) was born Hedwig Hintz on January 23, 1925 in Germany. She was the fourth and youngest child of Adam and Else Hintz, coming after Reinhold, Otto, and Lili. Her mother sadly passed away from tuberculosis when Hedy was only three years old.
Her father remarried a much younger woman, Helene, when Oma was five. Lili had gone to live with her aunt, Wanda Woite, when their mother passed away and Oma was originally supposed to go live with Wanda too, but she was too much of a daddy’s girl to leave home. Adam and Helene had three further children: Hugo, Helga, and Erika. Their first-born daughter, Alina, passed away at eleven months of age.
As a child Oma lived on a big farm with huge trees and she remembers them as being the wealthiest family in the area. They had a horse-drawn carriage that took them to church each Sunday, and it was the envy of the town. The family was sustained by crops, fruit trees, pork, eggs, and milk. Oma remembers having to peel potatoes for all of the farm hands before she went to school, under the direction of her stepmother, Helene. During sugar beet harvesting many additional farm workers were hired. She recalls her stepmother being very skilled at tailoring and sewing, and learning those skills from her. Helene could assess someone’s size and cut the pieces of fabric needed to sew a garment right out of the fabric without a pattern. Hedy completed her education in the local school, the equivalent of about 8th grade, and would have gone on to further education in another town, but this was interrupted by the war.
World War II broke out in 1939, the same year Oma was confirmed. On September 9, 1939, the Germans were fighting the Polish army in the area where Oma lived. From her yard she watched Polish planes flying overhead, shooting at the Germans. The doors to the cellar in which her family was hiding caught fire from the shelling, and when her family realized it they opened the doors and ran. Oma burned the bottoms of her feet running through the flames. They were worried about being trampled by the bull, which was charging away from the fire, but he waited for the family to go first. The family hid in a ditch as bullets flew overhead in the crossfire, not daring to raise their heads. They spent that night hiding out in the woods, and afterwards found twelve dead soldiers in their yard.
Oma’s teenage years were during the war, which was a very unhappy time with no young boys around. The normal dancing that was popular came to a halt, although they did roll the rugs back and play the gramophone for dancing when possible, even if it was mostly with girls.
Then they heard that the Russians were coming and Oma moved to her aunt Wanda’s house in Sprottau, where Lili lived. She then had to leave Sprottau because the Russians were advancing there too. She went to Reichenbach in Germany, which was occupied by the Americans at the time, but then overnight without any warning it became Russian occupied. Reichenbach had frequent bomb raids, and Oma ran into the basement many times. She escaped by riding a train to the border and then sneaked across at night with a small group of people who were also fleeing. The German people were ordered to take in refugees, and some were sympathetic and helpful, but others were resentful.
On her own, Oma went to Franzenburg where her aunt Lydia took her in to stay, although Lydia herself was already staying as a refugee. They slept three to a bed, crossways. Oma rode a very old bike 7 km to go to work in Kuxhafen, where she apprenticed as a tailor. She eventually saved enough money to rent her own room in the home of a family in Kuxhafen.
In 1952, never having spoken a word of English, and with just a handful of possessions, Hedy emigrated to America, seeking a better life than post-war Germany could offer. Her sponsors, Ida Endert and Adela Fertal, sent her money for the train fare from New York to Detroit. Oma was supposed to live with Adela but Adela became ill and Oma didn’t know how to take care of her. A teacher lived next door—a mom with two young kids— and she gave Oma language lessons every day.
The teacher’s sister, Emma, offered Hedy accommodation in her house and encouraged her to look for a job. Hedy found work at Scofers Restaurant. She was very thin at the time but didn’t understand that she could eat at the restaurant and was concerned about losing her job if she did. A co-worker explained that employees could eat at the restaurant.
Hedy’s goal at this point was to save enough money to return to Germany, but by the time she’d saved enough she had adjusted to life in the USA and no longer wished to return. To this day Hedy remains a loyal and patriotic American citizen, who truly believes America is the land of opportunity and freedom.
At a German picnic Hedy met the manager of the men’s alteration department of the Hudson’s store, and he offered her a job on the 13th floor. She traveled by streetcar and worked with Carmen, who was Italian, and Connie, who was French. None of them spoke English but they watched out for each other, and got along and remained friends for a long time, even after they no longer worked together. Connie told Hedy that she was allowed a coffee break, which Hedy wouldn’t have taken without encouragement.
By this time Hedy had second job as a tailor, and worked there until 11pm. She then took streetcar home and walked from Gratiot to Burns, which is now a very rough area of Detroit, where you wouldn’t think about walking. She quit her tailor job when she refused to alter pants belonging to an attorney who didn’t wear underwear.
Having also immigrated to America in 1952, Walter Steinbart was tired of the difficult life as a farmer in Iowa and drove his Plymouth to Detroit to say farewell to his family and friends living there, before he headed back to Germany. Hedy was a boarder in the home of his friends. When Walter left to visit his family in Lansing, Michigan he gave Hedy a letter to mail. When she looked at it later, she realized it was addressed to her and was happy to read a romantic letter asking her for a date. Four months later in August of 1954, Walter and Hedy were married in Detroit. Connie threw a shower for her and Carmen helped Oma make her wedding dress.
They lived in Lansing, where Walter had found work as a bricklayer. They both worked very hard and carefully saved what money they could. Hedy worked in the alterations department of a local department store, and sewed draperies on the side for an interior designer. Walter taught her how to drive a car, but they shared one car. Hedy managed their home frugally and whenever they were able to save some money they put it down on rental property in an effort to increase their income.
After a hard day of work as a mason, Walter painted homes to earn some extra money and made repairs on the four unit apartment building they owned. At times, Walter felt frustration at working as a laborer since he had been close to completing law school in Germany before he was drafted into the army. He attended classes at Michigan State in hopes of becoming a teacher, and also tried his hand at real estate. Later he earned his builder’s license and built a home for his family and also a commercial building for RCA which he leased to them. Walter became a master of his trade and was asked to travel to Washington DC to lay marble walls for a building there. He left his mark on many brick buildings on Michigan States campus.
Walter and Hedy had two children, Dory born in 1955 and Willie born in 1959. They grew a garden, and also picked local fruit where the family tradition of making apple sauce from Northern Spy apples began. Summer vacations in northern Michigan led to an annual trek to the Traverse City area to pick cherries. The cherries were eaten fresh, then some were canned, and a portion set aside for an annual batch of cherry vodka. The cherries were infused into vodka in the same jar Oma still uses today. The vision of brightly colored cherries in a clear glass jar on the kitchen counter is etched in the family memories.
Walter and Hedy enjoyed card parties with their friends and family, most of whom had also emigrated from Germany. These parties often ended with dancing on the linoleum tile floor in the basement, with the console record player playing German songs from the homeland, fueled by their popular cherry vodka.
Through the years, handcrafted cherry vodka toasts were offered at special occasions such as baptism, confirmation, graduation and currently at the grandchildren’s weddings, in place of a champagne toast. Oma’s grandson, Kyle, continues the family legacy with Oma’s Cherry Infused Vodka.