Basia Jaworska Silva reflects
Last week, after a three-year long battle with cancer, 57-year-old Maynard Silva died at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, with his wife of less than two years, Basia Jaworska Silva, and his son, Milo, at his side.
"We were consciously and quietly letting go," Ms. Silva recounts. Tall and lanky, she is an attractive woman with a face that seems to naturally relax into a smile. There is an affecting calm about her - peace rather than grief - that allows her to speak of her husband unselfconsciously. "I think we both knew this would be the last time he'd be home."
Born Feb. 20, 1951, Maynard Silva was an Oak Bluffs Island kid. His father, Frank, managed the town cemetery. His mother, Mabel Porter Silva, worked in Vineyard Haven at Vineyard Dry Goods. He graduated from the regional high school in 1969. An Island life.
And although his journey was not as long as it might have been, it took him from the Vineyard to the origin of the blues - Memphis, St. Louis, and the porch steps, corner bars and clubs where bluesmen gathered. It took him to the soul of his self-expression, and finally to the hearts of all those on the Island who were affected by his music and the force of his remarkable presence.
His was a life of staunch individualism and honest expression. According to Mr. Silva, bluesmen were the true philosophers, and they, as did he, lived their philosophy.
Dropping out of Lindenwood College near St. Louis, Mr. Silva traveled around Memphis and St. Louis, hanging out around blues clubs, studying the sound and technique, seeking out and being befriended by such blues legends as J.B. Hutto, Buddy Guy, Rick Danko and the consummate Mississippi bluesman Bukka White.
By 1970 Mr. Silva was getting jobs playing harmonica and acoustic, electric and slide guitar. A little more than a decade later he formed a band, and began making records.
His was a life that seemed set to a blues tune, a soulful, story-telling, bare-boned lament. By the end of the 1980s, he'd been addicted, recovered, married, divorced, single parent to Milo, and back on the Vineyard.
Another decade passed and Mr. Silva continued performing at Island clubs and fairs and festivals around New England. He made five solo albums, two with his new band, The New Hawks, and was included in anthologies such as "Best of Slide Guitar" (Wolf Records), and "Best of Vineyard Sound" (Rhino Records). He and Milo, whom he adored, became Buddhists. ("We call him a Bluedist, like a blues Buddhist," his wife says.)
Mr. Silva was first diagnosed with esophageal cancer in August 2005. A year later cancer was discovered in his lung, and after surgery and chemotherapy this past December, cancer had spread to his brain. This February a tumor was found on his aorta.
And during those last three years, for as long as he could, Mr. Silva played his music, sang his songs, performed fundraisers, and inspired those around him.
"Everybody loves Maynard Silva, and everybody really wants to give back to him all that he gave to us," said Barbara Puciul-Hoy, in a Times feature by Pat Waring, about the local musicians who banded together to plan a benefit concert for him in May.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
"The community has been unbelievable during this whole thing," Ms. Silva says. "On a personal level, I am surrounded by so much love and care. People were jumping in like family would. Organizations like Hospice and Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, the Steamship Authority, and the staff at the hospital, who were so loving to Maynard, me, and our families."
Ms. Silva smiles and says, "Life became very hyper-real. Every moment was so vivid and so precious. Every minute counted to say what we needed to say, to express our hearts and feelings. And even then it was hard, because that would be like admitting that this was it, and we really didn't want it to be."
But the end came July 16.
"The last days were filled with close friends and music," Ms. Silva says. "The whole day was like that. When Llama Tsony (from the Bodhi Path Center) came that night he did a whole Buddhist ritual for departing souls. It was so moving and so right. I really felt like his spirit was ready to go. At that point we were encouraging him to let go. We knew he was in so much pain, physical and mental."
The couple got together in 1998, separated in 2005 just before Mr. Silva discovered he had cancer, and reunited in 2006 as the cancer was spreading to his lungs.
File photo by Steve Rodgers
"I asked him if he still wanted to marry," Ms. Silva recalls. "I said, 'If you still want to do it, I'll do it.' And he said yes."
They married in January 2007, when Mr. Silva was being treated with chemotherapy.
"It was my way of showing my commitment," Ms. Silva says. "Some people were asking why I was bothering with marriage. I said because it never felt more right in my life. I felt like we needed to make it a community thing because we're such a part of a community. That's what a marriage is. This is us, and we're a part of you."
Ms. Silva is clearly affected by her late husband's philosophy and belief in the spiritual. "I was willing to be there to the end, hoping that there wouldn't be an end," his wife says. "I thought love could beat it. His spirit was so powerful to the very end."
Mr. Silva was cremated. His ashes will be scattered into Vineyard Sound.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by an aunt, Barbara Dugan of Oak Bluffs; two cousins, Glenn Andrews of West Tisbury and Tom Anzer of Concord and their families; his mother-in-law Teresa Jaworska of Vineyard Haven; and two brothers-in-law and one sister-in-law and their families.
Contributions may be made in his memory to the Martha's Vineyard Cancer Support Group, Box 2214, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.
A memorial celebration of his life will be held at a potluck dinner Saturday, August 2, 4-8 pm at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury.
Sam Decker contributed to this article.