Their love story began more than fifty years ago


By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Darlington residents Gus and Betty Battista have been married for over 50 years. Let that sink in for a moment. In a time when too many marriages are considered disposable, when unions splinter over arguments or illnesses or hard times, they have managed to stick together for five decades. Their road has not been smooth (Betty would be the first to tell you) but their partnership is a testament to the deep and abiding love that can grow when couples not only accept each other’s imperfections, but also learn how to love them.

I could wax on about them for a bit, though I think their story is best told by Augustino Michael and Betty Jeanne Battista themselves…mostly Betty.

Betty: We were born in the same hospital in Camden, New Jersey. We met on April 23rd but I don’t know the year.
Gus: 1966.
Betty: He remembers when I don’t. But I was working on the line at the RCA factory and they put me on a line with all men, and the men said ‘There’s someone we want you to meet.’ And when (Gus) brought the stock up, they introduced us.

That meeting led to daily lunch dates where they would share chicken salad sandwiches made by Gus’s mother, an excellent cook with many delectable recipes of Northern Italian favorites. After about a month, the couple went bowling on their first date, and Gus – a skilled bowler – admits he may have shown off a little bit.

Gus: I was good, but it was mostly the ball.
Betty: He had a gold bowling ball. It was beautiful, but my mother hated it. Her league bowled on the same nights as his, and they said that gold ball was distracting because it would pick up the light and glitter.
Gus: It was 24-karat gold flake in a clear ball…I got it on sale, and everybody hated it but me.
Betty: I liked it!

They dated practically every night, including a fancy dress bowling banquet, and Gus knew pretty quickly that Betty was the girl for him. He proposed on June 23, 1966, at one of their favorite haunts – Calico Kitchen in Camden. Unfortunately, the wedding took place in an old church with no air conditioning on one of the hottest days of the year.

Gus: We got married June 10, 1967, and it was a hundred and ten degrees.
Betty: He was in a white tuxedo, and when I looked up at the alter, he was so white that I thought he was going to faint…I told my dad, ‘Look, he looks scared to death!’
Gus: That was the shock of seeing you.
Betty: He had pitch-black hair and big brown eyes. I thought he was handsome, but I told my mom and dad when he asked me out, I told them he had a hump on his back and he had a big nose.

Though Betty shrewdly undersold her prospective beau to her folks, her dad knew better and told her from the first date that he knew the two would end up married.

Betty: I don’t know what he saw in (Gus), but there must have been something, because he was right.

Two years later, their family started to grow with the arrival of daughter Lisa, then son Michael, followed by daughter Gina, and last but not least, a “surprise package” daughter Kara when Betty was 39 years old. The Battistas didn’t limit their parenting to their biological children, either; they opened their home to 22 foster kids over the years, and still have contact with some who consider Gus and Betty their dad and mom.

The family relocated to South Carolina around 1994 when Lisa announced their first grandchild was on the way, and Gus and Betty bought parcels of land near their home in Florence in case any of their kids wanted to build homes near them. But their plans for a family enclave were derailed by severe health problems: in 2006, Gus underwent quadruple bypass surgery and was hospitalized for 57 days. Betty remained by his side the whole time, sleeping in the ICU waiting room every night, praying fervently until he came home.

In 2009, Betty suffered a severe stroke, which robbed her of her mobility, and the pair moved in with daughter Kara and her husband in Darlington. Gus kept vigil over her, spending most of his time posted by her bed. During her convalescence and to this day, he keeps doing what he’s always done: holding her hand, making her feel safe and cared for, and making her laugh at their troubles.

Gus: I think the last eight and a half years have made up for those fifty-seven days I was in the hospital. With her calling out at three or four o’clock in the morning, ‘I’m hungry! Feed me!’ You sound like that plant –
Betty: In Little Shop of Horrors!
Gus: And I have to throw something at you, like veggie sticks or cheese puffs…but always with love.
Other health troubles followed, including diagnoses of cancer, renal failure, and congestive heart failure, yet Gus and Betty are still here, still giving each other unconditional support, love, and a hard time. Asked if they have any words of wisdom for couples who dream of keeping true to each other for the long haul, they give the following advice:
Betty: It’s a give and take kind of thing.
Gus: Yeah, just agree to everything. No matter what it is, say, ‘yeah, you’re right’ and it works out for the best.

And with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s important to remember that love and romance isn’t all about giving fancy presents.

Betty: He’s cheap. He is. I didn’t get a birthday present for years.
Gus: Oh, here we go.
Betty: Sometimes when we he was working for Gulf in Philadelphia, he would bring be flowers every now and then, and he didn’t know how much those little flowers meant to me. Or a pretzel! The Philadelphia pretzels were so good.
Gus: I may buy her a pretzel for Valentine’s Day. But she has to watch her salt, so instead of salt I might put little heart candies on it.
Betty: Yeah, right! That’ll be the day.

Lest you think the romance has gone out of their marriage after such a long haul together, Gus and Betty celebrated their golden anniversary last year by getting married all over again. Their daughters gamely wore bright purple bridesmaid dresses, Gus donned a suave tux, and Betty, in her wheelchair, met him at the altar wearing a sparkly golden dress – a callback to the gold bowling ball that got their 50 year love story rolling.

Author: mrollins

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