My Papa, Joseph Clements was born Charles Fiedler in October of 1933 in Detroit. When he was 3 years old he was given up for adoption. He was adopted by Bessie and Charles Clements who gave him the name Joseph. The mystery of his biological family would haunt him until he was well into his 80s. He was such a vibrant, upbeat person even in his old age. He valued family more than anyone I’ve ever witnessed to this day. He had 6 children of his own, one of which he met at 83 yrs. old and took on a lot of people as family throughout his years. He didn’t sugarcoat much, was always very verbal about his opinions and contribution of wisdom. His legacy consisted of being a huge part of the church for many years, owning his own business, working in GM until retirement, serving for his country, but most of all his love of family. He had such a way of expressing himself and he gave the credit to growing up an only child with white skin and black parents. Growing up in the times that he did, he faced a lot of different obstacles that he never let take control of his life. He had fairer skin. So much so, that in the early 50s, he would be kicked out of “colored-only” bars. For years, I remember hearing my grandfather ponder on the existence of his biological family.
In 2014, at 81 years old, Papa finally received his real birth certificate listing his parents as Paul
Smith and Evelyn Fiedler. At which time, he proceeded to get their death certificates that listed next of kin. During this time, through Ancestry.com we began to find more answers. We found and became in contact with both the Smith and Fiedlers’ side of the family. For the first time, my Papa was meeting his family in the flesh. The joy in his heart and eyes still makes me happy to this day. Paul was a black man and Evelyn was a white woman. He had a biological sister, Mary Joy who recently passed and had been looking for him all her life. By his half-sister, we were told that at some point Paul became under the impression that his only son was dead and it effected the remainder of his life tremendously. I remember the day we were invited to his nieces’ home to eat and look over pictures of the family we never knew, it was a very emotional day for us all. He was even gifted with hats Paul always wore. We had connected with Pauls’ family in Detroit and wanted to truly connect with Evelyns’ side, but to our surprise we weren’t as welcome. Story goes that Evelyn put him up for adoption, she moved on to have another family with a white man. Not that it made much difference to us, we just wanted to connect with our long lost family. Papa actually went and was able to sit down and talk to Evelyns’ eldest daughter, his half-sister, for a short time and later received a letter with photos of her. The letter was a request not to contact the family again. We arrived at a very crucial time in their lives as their loved one, who would have been Papas’ half brother Dennis, had just passed. Through the grapevine, the younger generation of the Fiedler family became aware of my grandfathers’ existence and wanted to reach out regardless of their elders’ opinion. His nieces, Pam and Lisa Christianson and Nephew Dave Lowin traveled across Michigan to visit him for the remainder of his life.
Not very long after meeting his family he was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer. This was a very challenging time we all had to grow through as a family. The common goal of promoting the longevity of his life and being moral support brought us all closer together. I remember my grandfather so bluntly saying that he was ready to go on to see the Lord and didn’t want to go through chemo. We all struggled with the idea of chemo, but wanted to prolong and enhance the quality of his life so we took interest into healthier, more natural alternatives. Papas’ diagnosis caused a ripple effect in our lives, we couldn’t look at things the same. Through everything, how happy and grateful he was just to have us around truly challenged our perception of what happiness is. For a long time he felt there was something missing. But the whole time, he was the peace to the puzzle.