Thursday, August 16, 2012

Backstage Pass: Remembering Betsy

Betsy and Norma Leistiko on Ann Halprin's dance deck in Marin
Saturday Aug 18 is the 10th anniversary of my wife Betsy Rose Rasumny's death. My companion for almost 40 years, mother of my son Khola, Betsy was involved in home birth, in home schooling and, for her last act, in home dying. Her central passion was dance and she appreciated every kind of live performance whether on stage or off. She studied and taught dance in New York, Vermont and at Ann Halprin's Dancer's Workshop in San Francisco where I met her in the '60s while studying at Stanford. Ann's studio was located at the East edge of the Haight-Ashbury and Betsy's Stanyan Street home on the West edge. Consequently our courtship took place amidst the Haight's colorful background of hippies, musicians, sects, drugs and rock and roll.

As a dancer, Betsy was into participation and she had lots of friends. So whatever spectacle we watched or listened to in San Francisco, Betsy usually know some of the performers (and often was one). So afterwards we would go backstage and mix with the people who put on the show. For both of us, access to the backstage was a special treat, a deeper connection to the magic than merely being part of the audience. Altho I was never much of a performer in my youth, I was an altar boy for many years at our Catholic church in Ohio and participated both backstage and on the altar in the magic of manifesting God Himself in the guise of bread and wine.

When we made the decision to share our lives, I drove from Boulder Creek to El Rito, New Mexico where Betsy was living in a meadow with a hippie band called Daddy Longlegs. With her gift for making friends she had connected with many cultures including Pueblo Indians, anthropologists, hippie communes, Hispanic-Americans and peyote church people. Consequently she took me into many backstages that I had only read about in books. To repay her in kind, I made a connection with a physics colleague at Los Alamos National Laboratory and his name got Betsy and I past the guard house of the place where the first atomic bomb was made. I was wearing a tie, Betsy put on her finest hippie garb and we spent an afternoon backstage in a lab that was investigating "linear-pinch fusion".

In Boulder Creek, our first friends were music and theater people, so we spent much time backstage. Betsy was always joining or founding dance groups. At the time of her death she was participating in two groups she had helped start, and barely a year before she left this planet, she performed a major role in a full-length dance performance at a jazz club in Santa Cruz.

Betsy died at home from complications surrounding breast cancer. Her neighbors, her home-school friends, her dance and theater friends, her friends who were esoteric healers, her marijuana friends all came backstage to visit, to witness and to be actors in Betsy's last performance. One of Betsy's great talents was the ability to be fully present and to share that gift of enhanced presence with whomever she was with.

I prefer to sleep late but Betsy was an early bird. She liked to get up early, make coffee and sit by the kitchen window with a cat on her lap while putting her thoughts in a notebook. From the notebook of Betsy Rose Rasumny Herbert:


The chambers of my heart:
Kitchen, parlor, boudoir, attic, den
Hallway, basement, study, bathroom.

The chambers of my heart:
Rooms for receiving guests.

Betsy at home on Stanyan St, San Francisco, in the '60s


Jennifer Nielsen said...

Wonderful lady. Thanks for sharing

Dr. Will said...

Lovely, Nick. I shall always treasure my encounters with Betsy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you ~ that is beautiful ~ she was beautiful in so many ways ~

Jungle Girl said...

Your love and devotion to Betsy are so beautiful and inspirational. It inspires me to not only believe in everlasting love, but to attain to be the kind of outstanding human Betsy was.

Alice said...


April said...

Betsy is always with me.
When working with children in theater.
Coming up with new ideas out of thin air.
Listening deeply and moving authentically.
Improvising my way through the labyrinth
Dancing in the big messy nature of it all
with warmth, joy and imagination.

She continues to be my mentor and friend
my living example
I love her
that never changes.

Thank you Nick for sharing her with all of us.


Anonymous said...




oh betsy betsy betsy love love love

so grateful to have known beautiful besty


Apollion888 said...

Just beautiful, thank you for a glimpse into that world

I don't know what comes next but I hope she is waiting for you with open arms

conrad said...

Beautifully shared.

Thank you Nick.

Anonymous said...

One of Betsy’s many attributes was the ability to connect people who otherwise would not have known each other. With Nick and me, she accomplished what many who knew us independently would have considered impossible—namely, mastering the challenge of connecting two individuals who had evolved and lived physically, philosophically, and spiritually in what appeared opposite universes. The differences were so well-defined that even dear Betsy had her uncertainties at times about the wisdom of bringing us together.

Little did she suspect that much of what initially appeared as insurmountable differences would merge into a deeper understanding of something with which we both struggled. Our differences no longer became obstacles, but opportunities to learn by experience what would have remained incomprehensible in any other way. The odd couple of Nick and Reno, with time, transcended any divergence of perception and morphed the relationship into a deep friendship of the kind few enjoy.

After almost 20 years of regular contact and hundreds of hours spent in each other’s company discussing every subject that puzzles or interests us, the perception of the other no longer lingers on differences, but marvels about the commonalities cloaked in such different outer attire.

Thank you, Betsy, for allowing this to happen.

On a different note, when the time comes, I want Nick to write my eulogy. :-)


tandy said...

thanks for writing this heart opening and beautiful tribute... she gifted us in so many ways...and you continue to let her gifts shine into us. you bring her vitality and warmth into the immediate moment...
thank you nik....

conrad said...

beautifully written,


Evelyn said...

Nick, I just wanted to let you know I was thinking of my cousin, your wife, Betsey today. I knew her mostly through my grandmother and mother's eye. I cherish the few times I visited her in Boulder Creek when, as a new mother, she inspired me to homeschool my children. Thank you so much for continuing to post about her. Betsey was a very special person.

nick herbert said...

Evelyn: While I did not know you, your name is familiar to me. Both Betsy and Ida talked about you a lot -- and in a friendly way.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely lady.