“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.” – Simone Signoret
When Sue Daniels was 16, she begged her brother to take her out for a driving lesson. While tooling along a country road in Water Mill, Sue decided to pass the car in front of her. Not realizing she had to completely pass the car before reentering her lane, she inadvertently forced the car she was passing off of the road, and it ended up in a potato field. Little did Sue know that the man driving that car would one day be her husband of 50 years. “I asked her if I could drive her home,” said Sue’s husband, Al Daniels. “And that was it.”
Al’s family dates back to the 1600’s in East Hampton where he was born and raised as a bayman. Sue, whose family came to Bridgehampton in the 1800’s, was born and raised there as well.
Al had enlisted in the Air Force and served for four years. Nearing the end of his service, Al and Sue decided to get married. “We were married June 28, 1969,” said Al, “and the day we arrived home from our honeymoon, I got my orders to go to Vietnam.” Sue moved back in with her parents, completed her education degree and began to teach at Hampton Day School. When Al returned home, he and Sue moved to Pine Neck in Noyac, living there until they built their home in Sag Harbor in 1989. “We designed our dream house on a napkin,” said Al. “Then we went to an architect, who drew up the plans.” Al and their son, Mark, built the entire house themselves on evenings and weekends. “I loved it the day we moved in,” said Sue, “and I have loved it ever since.”
Sue and Al’s home is filled with beautiful treasures from their lives, their talents and their passions. Framed scenes created from sea glass hang in sunny windows, original paintings decorate the walls, and books of local interest fill the bookshelves. Their crafting room is organized with jars of shells and stones and sea glass along with all the tools of their trade. Sue sits knitting as she shares her stories. Behind her is the piano which she has played since she was a youngster. On the crafting table are note cards of local birds that Sue has hand painted. She is also a regular at the John Jermain Memorial Library, both as a painting student and an avid reader of novels and biographies. “I think she reads about five books a week,” mused Al. Sue is wearing a beautiful necklace that Al had crafted from pieces of shells found at the ocean. Al sits near the window with his fishing boat in full view. His mind is always thinking of new crafting ideas and things to create. Their lives are full of creativity and interests and a tangible love and respect for each other.
“It just keeps getting better,” said Al as he reflected on their lives together. “What has happened to us over the years is that we’ve become very good friends. The longer you spend together, the closer you get.”
“We’ve been very lucky,” said Sue. “It comes with age; you become more tolerant; small things don’t bother you.
I think we’re very vested and interested in what each other does. When I taught at Tuller School and the heat went off, as it frequently did, I would call Al, and he would come over and start the furnace. Yet, we have our own interests, and that is important as well.”
Al continues the trade of his ancestors. “Now, I’m a recreational fisherman,” said Al. “I fish every day from early April until the end of November. I leave the dock at 4 a.m., and I’m home in time to bring ‘Susan’ her morning coffee.” Al continues to enjoy his solitary time out on the water. “It’s mind soothing to be out on the bay. You breathe deeper, and you get to know yourself a lot better.”
Al has worked as a building inspector for Sag Harbor and North Haven for many years. He has also written the weekly fishing column in The Sag Harbor Expressfor 30 years. Sue has held a number of positions: teaching at Tuller School and Hampton Day School, as well as a number of other creative positions. Sue founded the Rainbow Preschool, originally located in Sag Harbor before it moved into the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork Meetinghouse and also gives private piano lessons.
“We are very dedicated to our family and spend as much time with them as we can,” said Sue. Sue and Al have two children, Mark and Kaitlin, and three grandchildren: Faith, Mark and Paige. “Our son Mark owns a successful local tree business, and Kaitlin is a high school English teacher and field hockey coach in Greenport. We’re lucky; our kids are very kind and generous people.”
It is the small acts of kindness that accumulate and form a lifetime of love. Every winter day for 25 years, Al has gone out to start and warm-up Sue’s car for her before she goes to work. Early each morning he goes out to get them both coffee in town and meets their daughter, Kaitlin, as she is en route to work. “I used to bring her to Morning Program at the elementary school every day, and now I meet her in front of the Legion every morning to talk to her before she goes to work.”
Daily walks on the beach looking for sea glass and crafting treasures are part of the Daniels’ daily activities. “We enjoy antiquing, ‘yard sale-ing’, and looking for things to upcycle. Some things we make together; other things separately, but we are always there to offer feedback to each other and act as a sounding board.”
Sue and Al have sold their creations at over 25 craft fairs this year, the farthest one being in Maine. “It’s really a labor of love. We started crafting about sixteen years ago. I would go to fishing flea markets and realized that some people might like to buy something other than fishing gear, so I started to make fish and jewelry out of clam shells,” remarked Al. “And things just kept growing from there. Hobbies are important. It’s what you put into it, something that makes your mind free. I can’t imagine life without a hobby.”
Now that Sue and Al are retired, they spend their days doing what they love. “Every day is different; every day is an adventure. We like days when there’s not a lot of wind. We go down to the beach at low tide to walk; our walking always has a purpose. We’re very spur of the moment, and we’re very flexible people.”
Sue and Al are also very involved in their community. Both are on the Songwriters Share Concert committee and help to run the concerts each month; they lead ‘haul-seining’ activities at SOFO and Camp Quinipet and Al has been known to don the red suit, willed to him by Sue’s father, during the holidays visiting local schools.
“We have many great memories of our time in Sag Harbor. Bringing our kids to ‘Mash Potato’ Park, the play group at the Old Whalers Church, sitting by the Big Rock at Long Beach,” said Sue. “The people you meet along the way become your friends for life.”
“The thing that makes Sag Harbor special are the people who live here,” said Al. “They are very welcoming. We love Sag Harbor. It’s the best place to raise a family. It’s the best place to grow old.”
It was heartwarming to visit the Daniels’ home and feel the warmth and comfort of the lives they have crafted together-the thoughtfulness, the give and take. It was as if I was reading the recipe for a happy life: a love of their home, their family, their lives and each other — 50 years in the making.