My mom, the late Maria Soledad “Chic” Nery-Fortich, left this world on February 26, 2006. She was 60 years old. It’s been 15 years, but I still miss her every day.
Mommy was a strong, optimistic, and stubborn person. She knew what she wanted and she did everything that she could to get her way. She was also very passionate. She constantly strived to do more than her best. She always wanted people to accept her; to believe in her and what she was capable of doing. Many times, people misunderstood her because of this. There were event times when people – relatives included – tried to avoid her. She knew this but it never made her give up. Mommy always wanted to be accepted because she felt she was different. At least that’s what I realized months after she passed away.
My mom always did her best to belong and be understood because she was blind and deaf. At the time of her death, she was already 98% blind, and this affected her sense of hearing. Despite this, she continued doing all the normal every day stuff. She wrote articles and short stories. She wrote two original musical plays; one of them featured local hero Salangsang. Mommy also produced and wrote for a local musical TV show. She published a magazine and even wrote textbooks for elementary students. She never stopped working. She was always creating something.
I can’t remember when her interest for writing and creating exactly started. She joined a scriptwriting workshop under the tutelage of Nestor U. Torre back in the early 80s. I think I was in 2nd year of high school at that time. As a culminating activity, they were tasked to write a 3-act play, and that was when Mommy wrote “Reyna Elena”. I remember her writing on think yellow pad papers. The entire script was handwritten! She only typed it when she decided to submit it to the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Mommy won 3rd place in the 3-act Play in English category. Her prize money was PhP10,000, which was already a big amount back in 1983.
I think that was really when Mommy’s interest in writing started. Aside from helping me come up with ideas for writing-related activities in school, she also wrote a script about Lawanen and Bagani that was performed in one of the functions of Bai Lawanen Jaycees. I’ll never forget that story because it made me fall in love with writing and theater.
Also, Mommy was one of the main movers of the Bai Lawanen Jaycees Interschool Playfestival back in the early to mid-80s. Around this time, she had two boutiques – Chic-Chat and Chic-Chat Jr. So, she had to juggle multiple activities in a day!
However, it was only when we moved to Metro Manila in 1986 that Mommy’s professional writing career really took off. Through the help of tito Nestor (Torre), she became a writer for the lifestyle section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI). Her features became quite known because she interviewed celebrities and famous personalities. I accompanied her when she interviewed her subjects as her eyesight was already getting worse at that time. She described it as “like looking or peeping through a dirty keyhole.” I didn’t complain because it was fun – and I got to meet a lot of celebrities (i.e., Martin Nievera & Pops Fernandez, Regine Velasquez, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Basil Valdez, Richard Gomez, Joey Marquez,. and many more)! I was also the one who went to the Inquirer offices in Intramuros to submit her articles (typewritten and printed!) and get her salary.
Eventually, PDI gave her a column, which she aptly title “Outasight”. Mommy shared funny and inspiring stories about her day-to-day travails as a visually-impaired person. It was a big hit, but I never really realized its impact until she wrote about how we (and other Filipino travelers who were going on a pilgrimage) were poorly treated by a consul in the Italian Embassy. A day after the article came out, people started sharing similar experiences with the same consul. The embassy was bombarded with complaints! The consul was declared persona-non-grata and we were invited to a private meeting with the new consul. It was too late, though, because we weren’t able to join the Philippine delegation to the World Blind Union conference in Italy.
Before she became a columnist at PDI, Mommy created crossword puzzles for Isyu, an opinion paper. My sister Connie and I eventually took over the job as she got busy with her column and other writing projects.
Aside from PDI, Mommy also wrote short stories for Mr. & Ms. Magazine, which came out weekly. She even wrote several mini-novels that were published by chapter every week. This stint opened up more opportunities for her and she was soon invited to write Tagalog and English novels (pocketbooks). She used several pen names, but the only one I can remember is Sol Reyes. Several of her Tagalog pocketbooks were under the Chic Fortich author name, most of them were published by Den-Mar publishing from 1992 to 1994. Her stories were inspiring and mostly focused on family, friendship, and relationships. Mommy also wrote several novels that had a paranormal twist as that was the time she was involved in crystals, past lives, auras, and other similar stuff. Some of her novels were sold at Ororama.
Mommy’s biggest project, though, was something that gave her both fulfillment and a lot of stressful nights. The original Binisaya musical “Ay, Kasing Kasing Ko!” was staged at the Dalubdulaan of the Manila Metropolitan Theater in 1987. Directed by Nestor U. Torre with music by Gines Tan, it starred Angelique Lazo, Jograd dela Torre, Felindo Obach, and several other incredibly talented artists (including my cousin Jing Sabalza-Alde!). It featured some of the original compositions of my maternal grandfather, Vicente Nery. The musical play was a critical success, but it wasn’t as successful financially. However, we were able to stage the production here in CDO at the XU Little Theater in the summer of 1989.
In 1994 (or 1993?), Mommy and I came home to CDO to work on a local musical production titled “Labaw sa Bulawan: A Tribute to Visayan Songs and Songwriters”. If I remember it right, the show was presented in partnership with the Historical Commission. With tito Nestor as director (again) and Glenn Reyes as assistant director, it had several shows at Grand Caprice and the City Tourism Hall (we “constructed” a backstage). “Labaw sa Bulawan” was a musical variety show that featured songs and compositions by Visayan artists. All the performers were Kagay-anons, including Glenn, manang Donna Chaves, Hearthy Reyes, and Marphi Tan, among others. Mommy contributed to the script along with tita Ametta Taguchi. It was one of the last musical productions that Mommy took part in. The show was restages some time in the early 2000s, but I cannot recall the details anymore.
Mommy continued writing for PDI until she and Daddy came home to CDO in 1998 (several months after I moved back here). I believe her homecoming was a life changer and responsible for the emotional trials she went through.
Cagayan de Oro was Mommy’s home, but it wasn’t her comfort zone. People didn’t really care if she was an accomplished writer, published author, or a Palanca-winning playwright. She wasn’t “in” and she had been gone from the city for years. So, she had a difficult time rebuilding her reputation and self-esteem. She ventured into a lot of projects – a magazine, a magazine-type TV show (as she worked with Loren Legarda on P.E.P. Talk in the 90s), and an agri-tourism video for Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon. It was already the early 2000s when she finally got he break she needed and started writing for the local publications here – Gold Star and Sun Star. It was also around this time when she wrote and produced an original musical called “Salangsang”, and a musical TV show patterned after the popular “Ryan, Ryan Musikahan”. It had quite a folllowing and featured the late Dave Alba on the piano and one of the pillars of the CDO music scene, the one and only (mama) Nena Hernandez.
Mommy was also a passionate advocate of the disabled. In fact, she was an active member of the Philippine Blind Union and represented the country in several international conferences. I traveled with her to Japan and Europe for the World Blind Union Low Vision Conference, and Daddy went with her to Bogota, Colombia for another WBU conference. She continued to work on this advocacy here in CDO – and her work for the blind and differently-abled was actually one of the things she was busy with before she passed away.
I shared all of these with you because I want you to picture how strong, passionate, dedicated, and, yes, stubborn my mom was. She was a fighter till the end, never mind if she gained haters along the way! She did what she wanted and if nobody would help her, she did everything herself – on her own, despite her disability.
Mommy had two eye diseases: retinitis pigmentosa and optic atrophy. RP is a genetic and progressive disease, which was why she said her eyesight was slowly dying. These, however, did not stop her from living her life to the fullest. She was already going blind – or already blind – when she created her biggest achievements. She kept writing even when she couldn’t see the keys on the typewriter anymore. She memorized the keys and , later on, used a text-to-speech program for our computer. She always found a way to make things work. She was my – our – Wonder Woman.
Like Mommy, I am a writer and I have a small theater group. But, I am not even halfway through what she achieved. I do know that she supports me, because this was what she always wanted me to do. I also know that she watches over us, especially in these challenging times. I sometimes feel her embracing me – I woke up from a bad dream and I felt something cold wash over me. I knew it was her because the hairs on my body stood and I felt so loved. And I felt better. My only hope is that I’ll have more opportunities to fulfill my promises to her – that I will (through Oro Teatro Bulawanon) continue her legacy and keep staging her original works.
It is also my hope that by sharing this story, those who are going through rough patches will find inspiration and courage to go on and pursue their goals. Nothing can stop you from achieving the success you aim for as long as you keep working hard and never give up. That’s what Mommy did her whole life.
I’m proud of you, mommy. I will always be. I love you. I miss you every day. Thank you for everything, my guardian angel.
(P.S. I plan to write about my fun – and funny – experiences with mommy, with living and working with a blind loved one. Stay tuned for this!)