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Homestead: My Family’s Roots

Back in 1927, my great-grandfather, Josef, moved his Polish family to the cold, snowy, and seemingly desolate area of northern Wisconsin, known as “up north” to locals. There, they were farmers, raised nine children, and started the story of the Bugalski family in America.

My grandfather, Thadeus James Bugalski, is now the owner of the homestead. In his 80s, the land has always been his home. Throughout his life he has returned to this place over and over, sometimes for weeks on end, to be where he feels most comfortable.

While the house has undergone changes over the years, the original structure has remained. Sometimes I think my grandfather’s favorite place is sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at the barnyard.

The hay in the barn’s loft is the last load of hay my grandfather put up there in 1959, before he would leave the homestead and move to southeastern Wisconsin to raise his family. With his mother still living on the farm, he returned often (nearly every weekend) to help her with chores around the 500 acre property.

An avid deer hunter, Grandpa Teddy, as I call him, had a deer named Bucky for a pet. Bucky would live with the cows, grazing and herding them. At a certain point the deer was too much for my grandfather to care for, so he gave Bucky to another local farmer.

The pet deer was unfortunately killed by a car, while crossing the road with the cows one day. To this day my grandfather cannot eat deer meet. Lately, he gives any deer he shoots in hunting season to his chiropractor.

Winter on the farm is an especially harsh time of year, even now. Six foot drifts are a common occurrence, and with the plow only coming around every two weeks — and nearly 1/4 mile long driveways — it’s quite possible to get stuck there. Old farm equipment like this is scattered around the property.

The original barn still serves a purpose on the land. It’s used mainly these days as storage for relics past, and is home to more critters than one wants to think about. But it’s also a monument of sorts to a time long gone. If you look closely (and squint) there’s a baseball sitting in the crack of the milk house. It’s been there for decades.

Much of the house still remains in an under construction state. Yet, the quiet beauty and memories that fill this place lend to sentimentalism on my part, and that of my family. The rooms of the house are divided up by family members, this one belonging to my Aunt Sue.

My great-grandmother’s stove remained in the farm house until quite recently. It was most-likely in good working order until the day they removed it. More often than not, the stove was used to heat the house on cold mornings, rather than fire up the gigantic wood stove.

My grandfather and his mother, and brother Leo were the last inhabitants of the farm, with all the other siblings having left as soon as they were able, and my great-grandfather, Joself, having passed away. The youngest of nine children, my grandfather took it upon himself to stay faithful to the homestead and help his mother as much as possible.

The farm house has been given a facelift since this photo was taken, but its essentially still the same building. I remember family reunions, quiet weekends with my grandfather, and family vacations centering around our family’s first real home in America. We’re lucky to have homesteading roots, and to still have this place after more than 90 years.


All photos are the property of Tamara Wilm Johnson.

Published on Nov 1, 2018

Grit Magazine

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