Written by Liz Wolfe
Nancy Dunlap and I shared a special father. He was born into a family full of love, laughter, humor, and religion. He was the son of Mac Prevatte, grandson of FA and great grandson of Furney. He was quiet, good natured, and even tempered. I don’t remember him ever losing his temper. He loved to tease and joke. He used to say people make money making jokes like this. He could be a stern parent when warranted but never in a hurtful or angry way. In some ways he never lost those boy-like qualities that endeared him to so many.
When he was a small child, he fell in a fire and was burned on his torso, right leg and arm. For a time it was touch and go as to whether he would live but with loving care, he did. During this time he was catered to, and a little spoiled, which enabled him to get away with a lot of mischief as he was growing up. His fellow mischief makers appeared to be his brothers Dennis and Willis.
Daddy never really talked much about growing up or his life before he married. He always made it into a joke. Fortunately, Uncle Dennis was always ready to spill the beans on the mischief to us. We heard about the Christmas Eve when Grandmother was putting an orange in Daddy’s sock on his bedpost and it fell to the floor. Daddy called out, “That’s alright Mama, I’ll get it”. Then there was the time his sister Addie’s beau came calling in a horse and buggy bringing a big box of chocolates. Daddy and Uncle Dennis told him to go on in. They would take care of the horse and bring in the candy. When Aunt Addie got the candy a good bit of it was gone. Of course we were never given details on any of the “consequences”. We also have a copy of his high school year book. He was in the science club. He liked to flirt, the girls loved him and he loved to dance the black bottom. He liked to go to the soda shop and wanted to be a soda jerk.
He appeared not to have a serious bone in his body. Once he took a paper home with a grade of F. His father asked him what the F stood for. It means fine, he said with I’m sure a perfectly straight face. He attended Wingate Junior College in Wingate, North Carolina. All he told about going there was that he was on a bus going to Charlotte when it stopped in Wingate. He liked the look of the place and decided to stay. He said he was the water boy for the football team.
He came to Whiteville as the manager of a Traveler’s Service Station, met our mother and married in 1940. He was 31 years old. I was born in 1941. In 1943 when Mother was pregnant with Nancy, he was drafted at the age of 35 and sent to basic training in Florida. He came back for a few weeks when Mother almost died in child birth but then he went back and was sent overseas. He was gone for three years. Daddy never ever talked about his experiences during the war. All we knew was that he served on a river craft in England and got to go over to Europe after the Germans were pushed back. We have the pictures he took in Europe. There’s one of Daddy with his brother Willis and another with Mother’s brother Frank. He had his own camera with him and took lots of pictures. Nancy has recently done some research so we have learned about his unit. What a shock!--Daddy served with the 353 Harbor Craft out of Camp Gordon Johnston in Carrabelle, Florida, which was the training base for amphibious soldiers and their support groups. They served on the Higgins craft which was used to ferry men and equipment from the ships off France to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Now whether Daddy was on the landing craft, back on the ship preparing the craft to launch, or something else we don’t know. It is just a shock to realize after all these years that he was that close to actual combat. We thought he was in England until the major hostilities were over.
The men in his unit were primarily from Wilmington and New Hanover County. Daddy was well liked by all of them. After all, except for the head officer he was the oldest man there. After the war was over they insisted he move to Wilmington where they lived. So we did. Those were good years. Daddy worked in the largest sporting goods store located downtown on Market Street, which I think was owned by the officer who headed the unit. I remember he had gray hair like Daddy. Daddy loved to surf fish; and most Saturdays, weather permitting, we were at Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, or Fort Fisher fishing. I thought I would go to school there. My mother decided she wanted to go back to Whiteville and so we did. Nancy and I grew up there. Daddy first worked in an auto parts store and later became an insurance agent. After a slow start he found his niche and had a very successful agency. He loved talking to people and never met a stranger. Those were valuable assets in the insurance business. Daddy made a good life in Whiteville. He was well thought of in the community. He was a member of the First Baptist Church, an active member of the Civitans, a 42nd Degree Mason, and a Shriner who also served as president of the Columbus County Shriners.
With all his joking, Daddy was always serious about the love and commitment he had for family. He deeply loved his parents, and we spent every Sunday afternoon with them unless we were sick. Grandmother expected us to come, and we did until first Granddaddy and then Grandmother passed away in my teens. On Saturday October 7, 1971, Daddy and Mother came to spend the weekend in Raleigh with my family to celebrate his 64th birthday. We had a great time. We went out to the mall to look around. There he was talking to some man he had never met. This was typical behavior for him. On Sunday he took some pictures with the same camera he had carried throughout the war—and an odd thing happened. The viewing glass fell out and broke in half. Maybe it was an omen of things to come. We parted with hugs and waves from both sides. The next Saturday Daddy died from a major heart attack. What a shock to learn that he had been told to get his affairs in order. He never let on what a serious condition he had. Sadly, that was his way. I feel blessed I had the birthday weekend.