I like to think that I got sewing genes from both sides of my family. My mom used to sew her own clothes, her mom made beautiful tatted lace, and my dad’s dad was a tailor. Today marks the 101st anniversary of his birth, so I’m writing a tribute to him — my Grandpa Komm. He is one of my greatest inspirations and I am incredibly proud to carry his last name.
My grandfather, Wilhelm (William) Komm, was born in Schildesche, Westfalen, Germany in 1910. His father was a bricklayer who was drafted into the German army in 1916 and served on the Russian Front, leaving his wife and six children to survive the rest of the War on their own. They never had anything to eat; my Grandpa told my dad that they would share one egg between all of the children. In the sixteen years that he lived in Germany he had only experienced a full meal once, and it was long after the War; he was out begging for food in the countryside, and a compassionate farmer led him to the one empty seat at the table with his hired hands and said to him, “Sit down and eat, Son.”
Because he had been severely malnourished as a young child growing up during the War, by the time he was a teenager he was a slight, sickly kid and unfit for hard labor. At the age of 14, instead of becoming a bricklayer like his father, or a harness maker and upholsterer like his oldest brother, he was sent to be an apprentice in the local tailor’s shop because it was indoors and not physically demanding.
Two years later, in 1926, the family immigrated to Canada and settled in the small prairie town of Cardston, Alberta. They didn’t speak any English, but luckily the woman who ran the hotel where they stayed for the first few days spoke German and found out that my grandpa could tailor. The following morning she took him to the tailor’s shop on Main Street and he started sewing right away. For his day’s work he was paid one dollar. It was the first money that anyone in his family earned in Canada. I’m so proud that he was able to do that for his family. (And especially proud that he earned it by sewing!)
It’s impossible for me to imagine Grandpa Komm as a pale, sickly kid. I always knew him as the picture of health and vitality. He lived to be 3 weeks shy of his 96th birthday and kept himself busy doing all kinds of things, including mending and alterations for friends and neighbors, right up until the very end. Literally. Just a few hours before he suffered the stroke that caused him to pass away, someone had stopped by his house (yes, he was still living in his own home — with a driver’s license!) to drop off eight pairs of pants for him to alter… I can only hope that I’ll live to be 95 and still be making the dresses that I love so much to make!