Labeled for lifelong love

One couple met with help of a tomato can, one met at a picnic, and both have years of wedded experience

One couple met with help of a tomato can, one met at a picnic, and both have years of wedded experience

January 31, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

It's a Cinderella story with a fairy tale ending. But there's no glass slipper involved - just a tomato can.

Mary Ellen Tyssens grew up on a Pennsylvania farm along the Mason-Dixon Line, where there were plenty of chores to keep her busy.

But as a teenager, she went to work at a nearby tomato cannery to make extra money.

The job was pretty simple - putting labels on cans, Tyssens said.

Little did she know one of those labels would lead to marriage.

In a few weeks, couples will be celebrating Valentine's Day - the designated day of romance.

But in a society where relationships are as disposable as greeting cards, few can say their romance has lasted more than a half-century.

Two Hagerstown couples who have celebrated milestones in their marriages recently reflected on their years together.

They might be called love stories. But they are also stories of commitment.


It was her boss' son who suggested she put her name and address inside the labels of those tomato cans, Tyssens recalled. He had done this and had received a letter from someone in England.

"So I put the information between the labels of a few cans and forgot about it," she said. "I was only 13 years old at the time."

Four years later, she received a letter with a postmark from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"It was from a young man from the Netherlands who had served in World War II with the Netherlands Dutch Marines," she said. "He had always wanted to come to the U.S. and had volunteered for a training program in North Carolina."

That man was Nicky Tyssens.

Assigned to kitchen duties, the young man opened a can of tomatoes, only to find a piece of paper inside the label with a name and address.

Soon afterward, he was sent to the Dutch East Indies, but for 3 1/2 years, the couple corresponded.

"Then he came back to the States and came to see me," Tyssens said. "For two months, he stayed with my family and worked locally."

Then, on a September day, they traveled to Hagerstown and got married.

"That was 59 years ago," Tyssens said. "And to think, some people said it wouldn't last."

Tyssens, who will be 79 in May, said there is only one way to describe the couple's story - "It's a fairy tale. I honestly believe we were meant to be together."

Through good times and bad

Over those 59 years, the couple has been blessed with two sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Tyssens said.

Five years ago, they suffered the loss of a son but were able to get through the difficult time thanks to a strong faith and a strong marriage.

"As parents, it was so difficult," Tyssens said. "But you have to go on. My son would have wanted us to do that."

In good times and bad, the couple have journeyed through their years of marriage as partners, Tyssens said.

But a successful marriage takes work - "something that some people today aren't willing to do. Times are different," she shared.

"When you get married, you have to realize that it's not always going to be easy. And when you have a little disappointment, you don't give up. You make a vow when you get married that it will be forever," she said.

You also have to be able to give and take, share and care for each other, she added.

Tyssens said she and her husband, who this month celebrated his 85th birthday, still enjoy doing things together, including volunteering at their parish, St. Mary Church, and delivering The Herald-Mail newspaper to Cedar Lawn residents.

"We're very active," she said. "We like staying busy. We've had a really adventurous life."

When they're not on the go, they enjoy spending time with their family, Tyssens said.

"Faith, family and friends - those are the most important things in the world," she said.

Six decades of marriage blossom from church picnic

George and Mary Durrell first met as teenagers, and a match was struck between them.

"We were attending a church picnic in Winchester, Va.," Mary Durrell said, "and he was sitting next to me around a campfire. We started to talk and soon became friends."

That friendship blossomed into a romance, and the couple married in 1946.

"It doesn't seem like 62 years," the Hagerstown woman said. "I guess that's a sign of a good marriage."

Durrell said she doesn't think there's a magic formula to a long-lasting marriage.

"It's really pretty simple," she said. "The foundation is love, but honesty and trust are also important."

She also said there is no place for selfishness.

"Nothing will ruin a marriage faster than thinking you're the only one that matters," she said. "It's a 50-50 partnership."

Durrell said she is one of those lucky women whose husband has never forgotten special occasions.

"Anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day, he has always had a card and a gift," she said. "He still tells me I'm his best girl."

The couple must have set a good example, she said, because their only child, a daughter, is marking her 37th anniversary this year.

"That's quite an accomplishment these days," she said. "People seem to have trouble staying together. One bump in the road, and it's over. Divorce is just too easy."

Durrell, 82, said she and her husband, 84, will be celebrating their 62nd anniversary in May - but their party plans are on hold.

Her husband is recuperating in an assisted living home from a recent illness.

"Hopefully, he'll be back with me in a few months," she said. "If not, we'll still find a way to celebrate. Sixty-two years is pretty special."

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