Thursday, July 17, 2014

He Put the August in Lisa August

My grandfather, friend, inspiration and namesake to Lisa August, Augie Moschitto passed away this morning, after 90 truly amazing and accomplished years.  He has been a key player in my life for 34 years, and as the memories jostle around in my head, I'm filled with happiness that I had him, and sadness that I can't ever try to make him laugh again.
If you knew Augie, you know the man that he was, and if you didn't know Augie, I'm sorry you never got to meet him.  He was charming, handsome, nurturing, intimidating, full of love, devotion, off color jokes and one liners.  Most of all he had a determination like no other, up until the end.
I wrote this piece about Augie 4 years ago and I would like to share it, because he loved it when I wrote it:
As a young girl, I loved to visit my Grandfather’s factory on my days off from school. There I got to separate pieces of plastic in all shapes and sizes and colors. (note: this was in the 80s, and we were the makers of those huge layered barrettes that were the height of fashion) I would put each shape, size and color in a different box, and to me, this was magical. Later on, in high school and college, the factory served as a summer job. Upon graduating college with a degree in photography and no money and no idea what to do next , I became my Mother’s assistant. With my innate need to be creative I soon began designing for their newly launched jewelry line, Bellissima. I will never forget the feeling of the first time the line was a success at a show. Something I created was desired by the public! Creating something tangible for others to appreciate is a great feeling, and I know that this creativity and passion is something that I get from Augie, my grandfather.

Augie is the son of Italian parents who immigrated to Brooklyn in the 1920s. When he turned 18, my young and skinny Grandfather shipped off to sweltering Arkasas, where he trained for the army and eventually got on a boat and sailed to Africa. This was a young man like so many in WW2 who had never left his backyard, and now found himself in Africa. They entered Europe through Italy, not exactly the desired first glimpse of the motherland. His troop was captured by the Germans at the famous battlefield Anzio, south of Rome. Because my Grandfather spoke Italian, he proved to be useful as a translator. He says this was the moment he knew he wouldn’t be killed. Once they left Italy, his Italian was no longer an asset, and my grandfather and the other soldiers were placed in work farms throughout southern Germany. He remained a POW for nearly two years until the war was over. He likes to say he owes his life to his good looks, as the farmer’s daughters were in love with him.

I often think about what these two years must have been like for a 19 year old in a strange land, with captors who spoke a strange language. To never know what the day would bring, if he would eat, or if he would ever see his family again. I have such a deep respect for what he endured, and I also find myself thinking, we wouldn’t be here, this business he created from nothing wouldn’t be here.

Back in the Post-war US, Augie began to work as an apprentice at well-known design houses in New York. He trained as a stone setter in the optical industry, and with that same material, he started his own company. Augie became one of the leading producers of hair accessories in the United States, and enjoyed much success. All of his success was achieved through hard work and a passion for what he was doing. Perhaps something he learned on those German work farms. He lived and breathed what he did, and it paid off.
In the 80s, when I was a child, Augie bought a beautiful apartment on a little island off the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. With it’s private white sandy beaches, and crystal clear water, this became my family’s destination when they could get the time off. We all consider it paradise. Weeeellllll, not all of us. Augie is not a fan. If you ask him how he is when he is down there, he responds: “I’m BORED to death.” How’s the weather? In his grouchiest of voices: “Beautiful” and then he just wants to know what’s going on at the factory. I guess you could say it’s true love. He is now 86, and still, after one of the most grueling New York winters I have ever witnessed, he wants to be in Jamaica, Queens at the factory instead of in sunny Florida. I told my family the other day, you know, he speaks more fondly of his time as a POW than his time as a snowbird in Florida. What does this mean? I’m not really sure, but he’s a pretty tough guy who makes really pretty bracelets.

Life certainly has changed since I wrote that old blog post, and when Lenore and I started Lisa August, we just knew Augie's name had to be involved.  So this company is for him, we are both so happy and proud to keep his legacy alive.

No comments:

Post a Comment