Ned Handy

Edward Otis Handy, Jr., aka Ned Handy…

My father, Ned Handy, loved Barnstable Harbor.   His was a long and active affection – from the time he was a boy, he fished and hunted, walked the flats and clammed, watched birds, sailed, canoed, kayaked, swam and motored in the harbor.

His passions started young.  Born into the depression, Dad grew up thrifty.  In Barnstable in the 1930’s, that meant harvesting what the land and sea provided. He worked on the marina’s fishing boats as a young man, and fished himself.  He dug clams on Phyllis’s and picked mussels off of Mussel Point.  He worked on Sandy Neck at one point, harvesting cranberries, and used the scoop he had bought for the job for many years after that.  Picking beach plums was a regular fall outing.

He loved the flats and walked them often – to clam and swim, to birdwatch, and to let dogs and children run free.  He fished off the flats, often lingering as the tide came in.  George Warren, an old friend, described first meeting my mother, then pregnant with me, wading alongside dad who was fishing in waist-deep water.    We feasted on fish growing up:  bass and bluefish and mackerel, often fresh for breakfast when Dad returned from an early morning trip.  In the off-season, Dad turned lures on his lathe and painted them to look tempting to stripers.   He took up fly-fishing in the harbor, and he had a special tackle box full of odd bits of fur and feathers for tying luscious-looking flies.

Between fishing and duck hunting, Dad developed a keen interest in birds.  The harbor is a wonderland for birds and birdwatchers – egrets wade in the marshes, hawks soar over the Neck, and sandpipers and other shorebirds gather on what he always called “the West Bar” even though it lies to the east.   Going birding was ample excuse for a boat ride, always, in any direction and at any time of day:  Dad and Mum were fond of setting off with binoculars and the dog and messing around looking for birds.

He sailed as a boy, and again as a retiree.  He was coveted as a crew member when young, apparently, because he was big.  For us, he was a captain, leading all sorts of adventures in the harbor and on Sandy Neck.  One favorite excursion involved strapping canoes on top of the car and driving up to Navigation Road in West Barnstable.  There we launched the family flotilla, and wound our way through creeks down the harbor with the outgoing tide.  Dad loved to swim with the tide too.  He led regular long distance swims (well, he led the excursion – he was a notoriously slow swimmer and usually last to reach the dock).    Once he led a group swim down and across the harbor to the lighthouse, stopping to rest at sand bars along the way. 

One magic Christmas, we found a model of a little shack under our tree – the ducking cabin on Sandy Neck that sat just west of the dunes that we called Braley’s.  Dad had purchased the cabin from Lee Austin and Gordon Marshall and made the model.  The place became a magnet for all of us, with adventurous overnights and summer lunches on the porch when up to 20 Handys and friends would spill off of the small porch onto the wooden steps below.  Dad penned his affection for the house and the harbor in a book called The Little House at Sandy Neck:  A Record of the Past and Present Uses of Barnstable Harbor and Sandy Neck. The book, along with several generations in whom he instilled that same affection, and an assorted flock of decoys, are a big part of the legacy that he left behind.

~ Susie Handy Littlefield