Tonight I had the pleasure of visiting a historic, French Quarter residence to interview Sorcha B. Alden, a 2015 nominee for the “Light Up Every Room” award. A career nurse, Sorcha was born September 3, 1916 and has cared for patients around the world in her quest to relieve suffering and celebrate every precious moment of life. She currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ms. Alden, congratulation on your nomination!
Thank you for traveling so far for to interview me.
I know you’re from New York City, were you born there?
Yes, at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen.
What prompted you to move so far south?
Initially, for a job, but New Orleans gets under your skin. I felt the ground shake when I stepped off the train in 1935…I didn’t realize it then, but I was home.
What inspired you to become a nurse?
My mother, Adelaide Alden. She passed away when I was 21 years old. My life’s path has been about honoring her legacy.
You don’t look a day over 22…what’s your secret?
I may have found the fountain of youth, but it’s cost me everything.
Who has been the most influential person in your incredible journey and why?
Dr. Raimond Banitierre. He taught me how to stare adversity in the face and cherish every gift I was given. Balancing love and duty was his greatest strength.
Have you ever been in love?
Once. Well…yes, just once.
Are you married?
In my heart, I am. Officially, my husband and I are separated. It’s complicated.
What are you most passionate about?
Preserving the dignity of people at the end of their lives. Treasuring our ancestors and their memories.
What makes you angry?
Seeing people disrespected because they’re different. Acceptance is the key to survival.
What makes you strong?
The unwavering support of my family and friends.
What character trait do you most admire in others?
One more hard question…what was the most important day of your life?
New Year’s Day, 1955. I faced my fears and won back New Orleans for the Banitierres and Aldens.
Now, let’s have some fun. What’s your favorite drink?
The Garnet Martini. It won’t be on the drink menu, but any New Orleans bartender worth their salt can mix it.
Band—Volbeat. Musician—Lady Gaga or Meatloaf. Depends on my mood.
Your favorite color?
Favorite vacation spot?
Scotland. The Isle of Skye.
What holiday do you look forward to each year?
Halloween…and Christmas. I love to decorate for both.
If you could give a piece of advice to future generations, what would it be?
Strength to forgive your enemies, vision to see power in diversity, and the courage to lead will pave the road for a brilliant future.
The only musical instrument ever outlawed as a weapon of war.
Tomorrow morning the skirl of bagpipes will bounce through the canyons of Manhattan. Here in the States, pipes herald parades, weddings and funerals but they still send me back to our Highland castle ruin. In those complex days of heartbreak and renaissance, my greatest savior was the evening ritual.
Alone on a desolate moor, dressed in full clan regalia, the soloist played from his heart, driven by the sheer power of the harmony and his love of the ancient earth. All civilization paused, spellbound and silent in reverence. Legend told of brave pipers that inspired soldiers to battle and instilled dread of certain death in their enemies.
I feel for a foreigner’s terror. The pipes stir my soul to the core-pulling me home to our roots in the blood forest, our grandest battle plans and decisive victories.
Two tenor drones and one base, tuned an octave apart. Follow their call-your reward will be the dawn of spring in all her ancient glory.
I’m a New York girl…at least I was.
I fluff my curls into the Gulf breeze and flop back on the rickety dock to stare into the inky sky.
Fog wraps the channel buoy but her bells toll clear and strong, unlocking a flood of memories.
Remember when The Inverness set sail for the far side of the world? Eight clueless nurses on their adventure of a lifetime.
So clear in my mind, it feels like yesterday.
“Could this mattress be any thinner?” I slapped the fabric and tried the fluff the lump that passed for a pillow. “I can feel the springs–each and every rusty one.”
I’m a bundle of nerves. I know the emergency drills are necessary but the thought of sinking is terrifying. Thank you Titanic.
“Angela, what did you do with that Panama Canal book?” I rolled over and poked the girl in the next bunk.
“Ow!” Angela sat up and smacked her head on the bunk above her. “I’m fine. I have plenty of cushion for my skull, in case anyone cares.” She smoothed her flame red hair and massaged her scalp. “Here it is.”
“I don’t think I can sleep. Charmaine can’t either.”
“Oh Sorcha, can’t we rest?” Charmaine moaned.
“No. We’re going up on deck and Angela is going to read us a story.” I don’t want to miss anything.”
Gathered at the rail of the Inverness we learned of the hardships, disease and loss of life endured during the building of the waterway.
“Ugh, I hate bugs.” Charmaine rubbed her arms and looked straight down the side of the ship. “So, why do we have to go up and down in these compartments?”
“We’re in the mountains, or something. I don’t get it either.” Elizabeth tossed up her hands. “They could have made these turns a little wider, though.”
Ivori stomped away. “You’re all idiots.”
So long ago…so much has happened since.
Excuse me, Miss?”
I bolted up, rubbing my eyes. “Can I help you?”
“We’re on vacation–from Chicago.”
“Yes, how lovely.” Didn’t you see I was busy?
“Why aren’t the bugs biting you? They’re eating us alive.”
“Oh…hmmm,” Mosquito carcasses lay around me in piles, the needles on their noses bent like crazy straws. “I must taste terrible.”
An unexpected perk…for this New Orleans girl.