Leo Donovan, Grandfather This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


My mother'sfather, Leo Donovan, is one of my role models. I have always livednear him and, consequently, he has had a major impact on mylife.

What was it like growing up inBoston?

I was born in 1920 and lived in a three-deckerwith my parents and two brothers. We were very poor; we didnot even have heat in the winter. To keep warm my threebrothers and I slept in the same bed.

How doyou remember Prohibition and the "Roaring'20s"?

It seemed like one big party. Prohibitionwent into effect in 1920 and lasted until 1933. The economywas in great shape because the country was just out of WorldWar I and it seemed everybody was celebrating.

When Iwas nine my uncle took me to a speak-easy in New York.Speak-easies were secret bars where alcohol was served, whichviolated the laws of Prohibition. I vividly remember talk ofgangsters, or racketeers, including Al Capone. They virtuallycontrolled the cities, bribing politicians, bootleggingalcohol during Prohibition and fighting for control of racketssuch as gambling, vice andloan-sharking.

Describe the Stock Market Crashof 1929, the Depression that followed and its effect on yourfamily.

The Stock Market crashed in October of 1929 andthe Depression ended in 1941 with the commencement of WorldWar II. I was nine years old when my father lost his job. Tosurvive I had to dig graves. Basically, we lived with the barenecessities. At the time of the crash it was not unusual forfamilies to lose their fortunes and for people to commitsuicide, especially by jumping out of buildings.

Ahorrible memory from the Depression is the death of mymother. She died in 1938 of high blood pressure resulting in astroke. In December of 1933 and February of 1934 we had noheat and the thermometer read -18 degrees. Another tragedy wasthe Great Hurricane of 1938 that killed 600 people anddestroyed the property of millions ofpeople.

What helped the country reform?

    In 1933 things changed dramaticallywhen Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. He did a lotto put people back to work. He instituted the New Deal, theCivilian Conservation Corps, the National Recovery Act and theWorks Progress Administration.

How did theDepression affect you socially?

The Depression affectedme every day. I worked after school and on weekends eitherdigging graves or washing dishes in a restaurant, whichrestricted my social life. On special occasions, I would go tothe Saturday movie for 10 cents, which was a big treat. Ienjoyed getting together with my friends and playing baseball.The Depression held me back from attending college. There wasno way my parents could afford to send me.

Whatwas the best part of being a teenager despite theDepression?

The best thing was being able toparticipate in athletics, especially baseball. I tried out forthe St. Louis Browns, a major league team, but I didn't makeit because I'm color-blind.

How did World WarII affect you and what role did you play in it?

TheDepression came to an end when the country started to gear upfor WW II. Shipyards were built, munition factories werethriving and the automobile industry was in excellentcondition with the invention of the Jeep. The United Stateswas drawn into the war with the attack on Pearl Harbor inDecember of 1941. I enlisted in the Navy a year later. I wasassigned to North Carolina for pilot training school, butcould not accept because I had just married. I applied for seaduty and in 1944 was assigned to a shipyard at Pearl Harborwhere I became a yeoman. At this point we had just had a baby,and I was forced to leave my wife and new son at home. My wifebecame so lonely she moved in with her parents and 13 brothersand sisters. We wrote every day. The war ended in 1945 and Iwas one of the first soldiers to come home. Our second son wasborn the following year.

What are some of thegreatest impressions of your life?

The attack on PearlHarbor, the dropping of the two atom bombs at Nagasaki andHiroshima and the sudden death of my mother when I was ateenager.

Who have been the most influentialpeople in your life?

There's quite a list. First, thereis Harry Truman, who was president when the atom bombs weredropped and during the Marshall Plan which saved Europe.Second is the former mayor of Boston, James M. Curley, whom Iworked for and who had a deep devotion to helping the poor.Third, Maurice Tobin, the former Secretary of Labor, wasinfluential because he was an example of a poor man who roseto Cabinet Secretary during the Depression.

The lasttwo are the most influential. My wife, who died in 1980 ofbreast cancer, has had an everlasting effect on my life. Sheset a great example of how to raise a family and guided me inevery way possible. Lastly, my father, who taught me how togrow up and survive under adverse conditions.



This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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