That's What She Said

Episode 73: Visiting with Debbie Char of St. Louis, MO and her story, “Conversations with Nana.”

Woman on stage behind a music stand with hands raised speaking to a crowd

Debbie Char

                                    SSPP ep. 73 DEBBIE CHAR  


Debbie Char appeared on stage in the second year of "That's What She Said" in St. Louis, MO with her story "Conversations with Nana." She shares with our hosts how she combined the elements of legacy, childhood memories and grandmotherly love into a story inspired by three words on a plaque she saw on a park bench.   



ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women's voices. One story at a time. 

Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast. 


[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme] 


JENETTE JURCZYK 00:27  Welcome back to another season of The She Said Project Podcast. I am so excited to be back in the studio. This is of course Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of all things She Said. 


KERRY ROSSOW  00:35  And this is Kerry Rossow. Co-Founder and super excited to be back. Yay. 


JENETTE  00:40  You know, not only are we in season eight of the podcast, but we are like right in the heart of our 10 year anniversary celebration. All year long. 2023 we've been celebrating 10 years of That's What She Said, does it feel like 10 years Kerry? 


KERRY  00:55  Some days, it's just like everything. You know, the older we get you stand around like scratching your head or watching or something. And saying like, boy, that seems like yesterday, and then the very next time you think of it you think gosh, that seems like a whole other life ago. And that's how it feels with She Said -- some days I think gosh, that was just a blink. And then other days. It feels like it was a fever dream. 


JENETTE  01:17 Well it was a whole lifetime ago. She Said has a life of its own now, like we are in so many cities, we are growing, we are getting to meet women; amazing, interesting, powerful women in so many new communities. And our guest today is very much one of those who we had the absolute pleasure of seeing perform on stage in St. Louis, Missouri, in their show this past year. So welcome to The She Said Project Podcast, our new best friend, Debbie Char. 



Hi, thank you for having me on. 


KERRY  01:52 

Hi, Debbie! 


KERRY  01:54 So what everybody else didn't hear was before we started (this shows my age) before we started taping, I said she said Nice to meet you and because I just been in the audience but But Debbie, you have that saying about you. I just I was in the audience and saw your piece and I (that doesn't sound quite right. But whatever. I saw your piece from afar.) And but I just felt like we like you were my best friend like you were my Nana or we were fellow Nanas or you just had this magic quality to reach out and connect to people 


DEBBIE  01:54  Hi. 


JENETTE  02:25  Just wanted to grab a stroller and walk through the park with you 


DEBBIE  02:29  that's great. 


JENETTE  02:31  Oh, how did you come up with the storyline behind Conversations with Nana? 


DEBBIE  02:37  Well, it started kind of in January of 2020. That was BC -- Before COVID. And I was wandering around Target, as one did in those days. And I happen to see this journal. And I have not kept a journal since I was a little kid. And I had no reason to believe that there was any anything coming that would warrant having a journal. But I bought it. And the first thing that I wrote in it was I have no idea why I bought this journal, I don't have anything to say there's nothing special to write, nothing is happening. And then COVID hit. And that journal was my best friend. And it just happened that I had the journal with me one day when I was walking in Forest Park. And that was the only place I could go during COVID where I felt like I was safe. And so I sat down on the bench. And it had the little plaque on it about conversations with Nana and that's kind of how it started. It was just a journal entry that just wouldn't stop. I just started writing and couldn't stop doing it. 


KERRY  03:43 Wow, that is okay, so now I feel like we're keeping a secret. Maybe we should play it for everyone to hear so they can catch up. 


JENETTE  03:50 Yeah, can we do that? Debbie, we're going to share the recording of your performance. And then we're gonna we're gonna we're gonna have some conversations with Nana. So for our friends who are listening, that is the title of Debbie's story from That's What She Said onstage in St. Louis 2023. Please take a listen and enjoy Debbie Char, "Conversations with Nana."  




DEBBIE CHAR 04:13 I am so glad that we have parks. For the past three and a half years Forest Park here in St. Louis has been my COVID Safe Space. My cell phone is full of pictures I've taken on all my COVID walks pictures of egrets and mist rising over the water and leaves changing colors and park benches. 


04:42  As I've gotten older. I have really come to appreciate a good park bench. I love the curve that can support a sore back. I love it when they don't have that center bar so I can stretch out. Maybe even doze. 


05:02  And I've especially become intrigued by the little plaques that people put on - honoring loved ones who have passed. 


05:10  So one day I was walking in Forest Park, and I saw a bench with a plaque on it. So I went over to it. Only this plaque didn't have the usual list of roles: beloved wife, mother, friend. No, this plaque had an assignment. It said, for conversations with Nana.  Hmm. 


05:37  I had a Nana once. And now I am one. This bench was the perfect chance for me to communicate with my Nana, long gone, and to consider my role as Nana to three beautiful grandchildren. Plus, I'm all about assignments. I'm a teacher. 


05:57 So I sat down. 


05:59  At first it came easy. Just some little tidbits. Hey, Nana, remember when I was a little kid that one time I slept over at your house? And just before I fell asleep? You said to me "sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." 


06:16  Ahh! Nana! No wonder I only slept at your house one time. Oh, and I have to apologize, Nana, that time that I wouldn't even try those cheesy potatoes that you made. Well, to be fair, I know now that you said they were au gratin. But at the time I heard fog rotten. 


06:38 I'm sure they were delicious. 


06:41  And Nana, you would not believe, they can take telephones now and they've shrunk them down so small that you can put them in your pocket. Not only that, but they give directions! You would never have to be lost again. It is amazing. 


06:59  Well, anyway, after those little tidbits, I started to connect the dots between generations, in a way I never had before. 


07:09  100 years before the COVID pandemic, there was another pandemic of influenza that killed 50 million people. And one of the people who died was a 32 year old mother of seven children. One of those children was 18 month old Geneve who would one day grow up to become my Nana. Well, Geneve's father couldn't take care of seven children by himself. So he gave Geneve to his sister in law to raise. 


07:48  Now at that time, nobody talked about adoption. So Geneve was just quietly brought to another household. In another state, given a new last name, taught to call a different couple Mom and Dad, and introduced to her biological cousins as siblings. 


08:09 Nana, I never thought to ask you this when you were alive, but what was it like to find out as an adult, that you were not who you thought you were? I can't imagine.  


08:24 100 years later, my daughter and her partner adopted a little boy. Only this adoption is not just acknowledged, but celebrated. Unlike my Nana, my grandson will always know his origin story. 


08:42  Nana, there was another conversation that we had. One that you won't remember, but it was right after you were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. You were so aware that you were losing your memory. And you were so powerless to stop it. That little girl whose identity had been torn apart and stitched together was now going to lose that memory completely. 


09:09  Nana, you did you lost just about everything. But there was one thing you didn't lose. I gotta tell you that. 


09:16  I went to visit you in the nursing home shortly before you passed. And you didn't know who I was. But you offered to sing for me. And Nana you remembered every word of all the old songs. I can remember you singing with such gusto. (singing) "Oh, and it's gonna rain no more. No morning gonna rain no more. How in heck can I wash my neck if it ain't gonna rain no more." (laughs) 


09:45  Wonderful. 


09:47  I grew up around the corner from Nana's house. So you might think we spent a lot of time together and you'd be wrong. 


09:55 As I sat on that bench I was all of a sudden just overwhelmed with rage. 


10:03 Nana, where were you when I needed you? Did you know my mom was on drugs? Where were you all those times when I had to take care of my younger siblings, because mom had passed out again? 


10:19 The little girl inside was just screaming -- silently, for answers shall never have. On the other hand, I never walked around the corner to Nana's house to tell her what was going on. To beg for help. 


10:38 Sitting on that bench. I wondered how my life might have been different if I had. 


10:46  Well, somehow I grew up and I had three beautiful, wonderful children. And I found out the hard way that even the most vigilant and loving caregiver sometimes screws up. I did and sometimes misses important clues. I did. 


11:12 And lives with the unrelenting regret of not having kept her children safe. I did. 


11:24 On second thought Nana, (sniffs) maybe I need to cut you some slack. I bet you did the best you could. I'm struggling to cut my own self some slack. 


11:37 Anyway, somehow my children grew up and they started having children of their own and they asked me what the grandmother name should be. Well, in honor of my Nana, I decided to become Nana. Well, it wasn't just that, you know that dog in Peter Pan that big sheepdog thing that tried so hard to keep the Darling children safe? Yeah, that had a lot to do with it, too. 


12:03 But anyway, this Nana gig rocks! There is nothing like setting up a picnic at the Metrolink station. Did you think I was gonna say park? Yeah, no, you have to watch the trains go by you have to watch those, those Ding ding ding ding those railroad crossings go down. There's nothing like it. Except maybe going to the community college every Saturday to ride every single elevator to every single floor. Oh, that's about as much fun as a person can have. 


12:38 Anyway, I love being a Nana. I want to be that safe space for my grandchildren. I want my lap to be their park bench. I want to be the Nana I needed as a child. 


13:02 Maybe someday, a park bench will be dedicated to my memory. It better not have that center bar. Better have that curve - to support a back. But this is the assignment I'm working on. And maybe one for you. What should the plaque say? 




JENETTE  13:28 Now that was an intriguing journal entry! 


KERRY  13:32 Famous last words. I have nothing to say. Right? 


DEBBIE  13:35 Exactly. Yes. Little did I know. 


KERRY  13:38 Oh my gosh, that that was just amazing. Okay, so let me just jump right to it. What What was the reaction that you got after the show? 


DEBBIE   13:46 I loved walking afterward, you know, to the little dessert party thing that you have. We had a donut wall. By the way. Thank you. Jenny Pratt it was amazing. 


JENETTE  13:54 Yeah, I remember. Yeah. 


DEBBIE  13:58 But as I walked down the hall, I can't tell you how many people stopped and told me about parts of it that they related to. And there were some people who said I'm a nana I love that. And other people who were certainly not nanas said things like, Oh, I love the park too. Or oh, I know what you mean about the benches. You know, it was just... it was like everybody kind of caught on to some little aspect of the story because it was just such an everyday person story, I guess. So it was kind of cool to see how many people were able to, to latch on to just a little piece of it. 


KERRY  14:35 Yeah, there was a nugget for everyone. 


JENETTE  14:37 And that takes that takes talent. You're a very gifted storyteller to put all those pieces together and frame it the way that you did. And we got to know you very quickly. We got insight into your childhood and growing up. When you reflected on your relationship with your own Nana, did that come out of the journaling experience during COVID? Is that something you explored? 


DEBBIE  15:01 Not until I sat on that bench that was just that 


JENETTE  15:04 That plaque triggered everything. 


DEBBIE  15:06 Yeah, it really did. And I had no idea that I was angry. 


JENETTE  15:12 (gasp) 


DEBBIE  15:13 That really must have been buried very, very deep. Because I never if you had said, What was your nana, like, I would have said, Oh, she was wonderful. She was sweet. She was kind, it never would have occurred to me that there was a part of me that was angry that she didn't step in, when I felt that I could have used her help. But that didn't come about until I was sitting on that bench and writing in that journal. 


KERRY  15:36 Like, Hey, I got some questions. I didn't know it, but I do. So how has it impacted you going through that process? 


DEBBIE  15:44 I think it's given me a lot more understanding -- both of her life and of my relationship to my grandchildren. Now I kind of feel like oh, that's why it's so incredibly important to me, that I have this relationship with them. And of course, I would have wanted a relationship with them anyway. But I think there's maybe even an extra layer to it. Because it's my relationship with her. And then it's also just given me this storytelling bug. Gosh, that was fun. 


KERRY  16:17 Right? 


DEBBIE  16:19 Yeah. So I've been journaling more and some of them are turning into stories and that's been really really interesting to know that that part that part of me somewhere. 


JENETTE  16:27 I don't know -- I have a vision of a coffee table book, Conversations with Nana, you know, there's so much more to explore. And like you said, You inspired others to think about you know, those those nuggets that they got to enjoy with their own Nanas once upon a time. It is a story full of those once upon a time moments, those memories, but it comes down to reflection like you took that time to reflect on your relationship and how it impacted you and where you are today with your own grandkids. 


DEBBIE  17:00 Yeah, yeah, 


KERRY  17:01 Maybe it was just sitting there waiting. You know, that beforehand that you needed it to be something else. And then when you were ready on that bench, it just was like, okay, now's the time. 


DEBBIE  17:12 Right. Exactly. 


JENETTE  17:14 Let's answer that question. What should the plaque say? 


DEBBIE  17:18 Boy, I think about that all the time. And I still don't know. So I guess I can't die yet. 


KERRY  17:24 (laughs) I'm stuck here! 


DEBBIE  17:27 I am stuck here until I figure this out. 


JENETTE  17:31 You have a renewed purpose! 


DEBBIE  17:32 It's not the person who dies who makes up those plaques gonna say anyway, so I guess it would have to be whatever my loved ones but I think they got the hint now that I really want to bench So, if they don't get that with you let them know. 


KERRY  17:32 I'm on it. 


JENETTE  17:35 Absolutely. We'll send this recording over. We'll make sure they hear it 


KERRY  17:49 Just a subtle hint. 


DEBBIE  17:49 Thank you. Yeah, so I guess you know, it's kind of up to them unless I put it in my will or something but I really don't know yet. 


JENETTE  17:56 What would the plaque say? But that's, I mean, that is such a great conversation question. Like what would your plaque say Kerry Rossow on your... 


KERRY  18:06 Oh gosh.. I don't know. 


JENETTE  18:06 Memorial bench. 


KERRY  18:08 it goes back to legacy right like at the end of the day we all want to know like what we did mattered we were you know, you want something that says you know "Rossow was here" you know, whatever just that “hey, hey, girl, hey.” 


JENETTE  18:22 I don't even know if this will make it onto the podcast but when I think of a bench for Kerry Rossow's memory the bench would reach out and give you butt slaps 


KERRY  18:30 Yes yes. 


JENETTE  18:31 That's what it would do, butt slaps and then Kerry 


KERRY  18:33 Yes, and the least kinky I mean the visual of that was like well that took a kinky turn but like in like the after a game butt slabs kind of way. Yeah. 


DEBBIE  18:40 Oh, absolutely. 


KERRY  18:41mYeah. But I love that: Butt slaps had here. 


JENETTE  18:46 ‘Have a seat have a slap.’ Yeah. No. I don't know. That is such a fun question to I'm gonna carry that with me. I'm gonna take that with me into some good party conversations be like, What 


DEBBIE  18:57 There you go. 


JENETTE  18:58 Yes. But like that is? How do you think of your your legacy? In short enough, you know, phrase that that can fit on a price 


DEBBIE  19:06 that fits on a little plaque. And it's not going to make somebody go broke.. Trying to write it all out.. 


JENETTE  19:12 How did you enjoy the rest of the experience? Like getting to know the women in your cast and enjoying their stories? Did you guys like build some friendships or find some mutual bonds? 


DEBBIE  19:24 Oh, definitely. Um, I think it was a little bit intimidating. There were a number of best selling authors speaking and things like that, where I just thought, oh, my gosh, there's no way. You know, that was really amazing to me that the people who were speaking and the things that they've accomplished in their life was was just unreal. But, but they were all very down to earth. Very interesting people. And actually, a couple of them came to my concert that happened after that. And so that was really fun. So yeah, we've definitely kept in touch a couple of them have gotten married and we're Facebook friends now. So I guess we'll see How beautiful they looked. And all of that was neat. 


KERRY  20:03 Okay, wait. Back that truck up. What concert? 


DEBBIE  20:08 Oh, I sing with an LGBT chorus, it's called CHARIS, C-H-A-R-I-S in St. Louis. 


KERRY  20:15 You do it all. 


DEBBIE  20:17 Yeah.. oh no,. It's purely for fun, but I absolutely love it. We have an upcoming concert on banned books, where all of the songs are based on books that have been banned. So yeah, it's it's a wonderful group of people. So, yeah, 


KERRY  20:31 That is fabulous! 


JENETTE  20:32 Kerry, I'm picking you up. We're heading to St. Louis 


KERRY  20:34 Get in the cab! We're going! 


JENETTE  20:38 How did you get skipped into all of this? Did you know Jenny Miller Pratt, the St. Louis producer? 


DEBBIE  20:44 I did not. I did sort of know Dr. Lauren Miller, who spoke at the first one and she has a podcast and people should all watch it. So what she was talking about her favorite students are incarcerated students at the very first show in 


KERRY  21:03 I remember that. Yes, very powerful. 


JENETTE  21:05 Yeah, we had her on the podcast, 


DEBBIE  21:06 Wonderful. But I knew her just tangentially through other people. And so I went to hear her. But the ironic thing is that while she was speaking, I fell in love with what she was saying. And I wanted those to be my students, too. I'm a math teacher. And so I talked to her after the show, and I said, we need to go get coffee. And she said, that's perfectly fine. She'd love to do that. And we did. And now I teach at the county jail. So I have followed in Lauren's footsteps. Yes. 


JENETTE  21:36 And I love the connection came because of That's What She Said. 


DEBBIE  21:39 Because of That's What She Said. Yeah. Wow, that was inspired by what she talked about. 


KERRY  21:46 That is just wonderful. One of the things that I talk about all the time is I want the show to be both. It's the old analogy of you know, I want it to be a mirror and a window. You know, you you see yourself reflected back, but then you see other things and and exactly that like, oh, gosh, you know I did that's the way I want to serve. And I wouldn't have been led down that path if the two of you hadn't met. That is just amazing. 


DEBBIE  22:09 Yeah, yeah, it's great. And it's everything she said it was it's wonderful to teach there. 


KERRY  22:15 So rewarding, 


JENETTE  22:16 That is so inspiring. You guys are having an incredible impact. And I can hear the joy and the passion in your voice, you know, making this connection and this opportunity. 


DEBBIE  22:27 Yeah, it was just so fortunate that I was there that night and got to hear what she does. 


JENETTE  22:33 And then you got to appear on stage just a few months later. That's.. 


DEBBIE  22:38 Yeah, That was the other thing. When I was watching, you know, that first show, I kept thinking, not only did I think, wow, I want to be like Lauren, but I kept thinking, wow, I want to be up there. I didn't have a story at the time. I just wanted to be up there. 


JENETTE  22:51 But now you said you have the bug. So yeah, have you explored other opportunities to write to share to to appear on stage? 


DEBBIE  23:01 Not appear yet, but I do have a story coming in. It was another Journal story, but it's about an accidental Pumpkin Patch my my yard turned into a pumpkin patch this summer. Through absolutely no effort of my own. I did not plant pumpkins. And in fact, I had no idea what they were. And they took over my little urban yard, which is teeny tiny. And it just turned into this wonderful, magical situation for the summer. So so I'm working on writing that story. So I don't know who would ever want to hear it. But that's the story I'm writing right now. 


KERRY  23:40 That's fantastic. 


JENETTE  23:42 I mean, that could be a children's book right there. 


KERRY 23:45 I love it 


DEBBIE  23:46 true. Yeah, there you go. 


JENETTE  23:48 Debbie, there are so many opportunities out there for you. You're full of wit and charm and like we've known you forever and yet we just met it's these are. These are some of my favorite conversations. 


DEBBIE  24:03 Wow. Well, mine too. Thank you. 


KERRY  24:05 Well, my husband's from St. Louis. So now every time he grew up not far from Forest Park So now whenever I'm in Forest Park again, I will be hoping to run into you. 


DEBBIE  24:14 Yes, that would be wonderful. And check out the bench. It's going around the grand basin and where all the fountains are 


KERRY  24:21 Amazing. Amazing. 


JENETTE  24:22 Okay, you need to go hunt down that bench and send me a photo 


KERRY  24:25 but don't be frightened. So like if it's six foot tall woman comes running to like, go sit on the bench together. Please don't call the popo. 


DEBBIE  24:33 Oh no, I just sit on the bench with you anytime. 


JENETTE  24:38 And friends. if you're listening from St. Louis, go check out the local parks. They are there for your enjoyment. This feels like a PSA. 


KERRY  24:47 We hit all the things like I love the parks. I love that like these are just these national jewels and this is one example of why 


DEBBIE  24:54 Yes, exactly. Yeah, it was the best place to be during the pandemic. 


JENETTE  25:01 Debbie, you turned out to be the Nana that everyone dreams of having, you know, with the lap that we can snuggle in, and the stories that you that you share just I feel like maybe somewhere along the way that was that was your dream, you know, to be that Nana and, and it all came true. 


DEBBIE  25:23 Yeah, yeah. A lot of years to go with them. The youngest is just six months old, but boy, I'm in for it. 


KERRY  25:29 Oh my gosh. 


JENETTE  25:30  Yeah, those are some lucky kids. I'm, I'm happy that we celebrate that. 


DEBBIE  25:35  Well, thank you 


JENETTE  25:39 Thank you for making time to chat with us and reflect on you know, the story you shared on stage and That's What She Said. We're so excited because of your time here today we can share this story with a greater audience through the podcast. We have such a wonderful partnership with Illinois Public Media, they have been so supportive of us, you know, launching this podcast for eight seasons now. And so thank you for joining us. Thank you to everyone in the studio. 


DEBBIE  26:02 Thank you so much for the chance to do this. It was fun. 


KERRY  26:05 Oh thank you. 


JENETTE  26:06  Thank you so much for joining us on The She Said Project Podcast 


KERRY  26:09  Over and out 





[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme] 


ANNOUNCER 26:14 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to [url=][/url] 


This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives. 




KERRY  27:03 Thank you, Deb! 



Debbie Char appeared on stage in the second year of "That's What She Said" in St. Louis, MO with her story "Conversations with Nana." She shares with our hosts how she combined the elements of legacy, childhood memories and grandmotherly love into a story inspired by three words on a plaque she saw on a park bench.