"There were a lot of people standing and chewing. I was thinking to myself: 'What is that? Is there a sickness here? They all keep chewing.' Until I talked to my family later they explained to me that this was chewing gum. Nobody's sick." (Rita Seitzer)
Lithuanian folkdress courtesy https://www.pinterest.com/pin/168814686005004643/.
Rita Seitzer was born in raised in Sveksna, Lithuania in the early 1900's. She was the only girl in the family. Her two older brothers, Bennie and Max, not wanting to join the Russian Army, skipped the border and went to America. Rita's father passed away from a mysterious illness when she was very young.
Rita grew up in a four room wooden house with a wood stove. She was raised by her mother and her grandmother who pampered her. Her grandmother cooked the meals which consisted of meat and potatoes. They did not have a garden to grow vegetables in.
Their neighbour Germany featured prominently in their every day lives. Rita had a German tutor. The Germans occupied Lithuania during the First World War. Once peace was restored, the two countries became friends once again. The townspeople in Sveksna used to travel via horse and buggy to Memel, Germany to shop. By the Second World War, the Lithuanians helped the people of Memel who were fleeing the Red Army.
But Rita did not stay until the Second world War. In 1921, she and her mother decided to join her brothers in America. Rita's mother sold the house and spent months getting the necessary papers to immigrate. "It was such an empty feeling to leave," explained Rita. The mother and daughter travelled by horse and buggy to Germany where they boarded a train for Hamburg. They set sail for America aboard a small ship, all one class.
Ellis Island was a strange experience for Rita. "There were a lot of people standing and chewing. I was thinking to myself: 'What is that? Is there a sickness here? They all keep chewing.' Until I talked to my family later they explained to me that this was chewing gum. Nobody's sick."
Rita and her mother moved in with her brothers in an apartment in Harlem. It took a long time for Rita, accustomed to the country, to get used to city life. Despite the proliferance of people, she felt "lonesome".
Rita went to work at the factory that her brothers owned. It was there that she met her future husband. They married in 1923 and had two daughters. Rita attended night school where she learned English. Her mother, however, not learned the language. Still accustomed to the Old World, she did not like the fact that her sons kept their business open on the Sabbath and they did not always eat kosher meat. However, she was happy to have all of her children together again.