The Optimist

If you were to bullet point Mike Hewson’s biography, the list would sound sad:

• Grew up gay in the 1950s
• Drafted into Vietnam as a medic
• Returned to Los Angeles and worked in a hospital
• Cared for his mother during her 4-year ordeal and death from cancer
• Watched his good friends, all young men, die from AIDS.

But it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” He might have been speaking about Mike, who was born on July 18, 1945, and moved to 16724 Morrison St. in Encino five years later.

He had an ideal childhood, with a stay-at-home mother and a father who worked as printing company salesman, and a younger sister, Deawn.

In those days, Encino was like a small town, with block parties and vast ranches and newly built houses. The 101 and 405 didn’t come through the Valley until the early 1960s.

He went to Encino Elementary and Birmingham High School. His family lineage, including many veterans of many wars, stretched back some 200 years.

He attended Valley and Pierce Colleges for two years and then studied to become an Operating Room Technician.

In 1967, he went into the Navy and later joined the Marines and went off to Vietnam for 27 Months. His nickname was “Flash”.

In his field hospital, 30 miles outside of Dan Nang, near China Beach, he assisted in neurological operations on wounded soldiers. Blood, suffering, the horrors of war, death and truncated and destroyed young men: all of these violent and horrific human tragedies marched before his young eyes.

He got down in the trenches and did anything he needed to do to help his fellow Marines. He was “Doc” but he was GI Joe too, never allowing his higher position to interfere in lending a helping hand.

He told me that everyone knew he was gay, but that he never heard one hateful remark. He believed that a lot of homosexuality went on in the armed forces, but that it was not an issue because survival and fighting mattered most.

Only politicians make an issue of it.

When he came back to the San Fernando Valley, in 1971, he was overjoyed to be back in the USA. He was still only 26 years old, and he went to work at Encino Hospital and lived as a single gay man in the Brady Bunch era.

Active in the Metropolitan Community Church, he also hung out with a group of friends who all died from AIDS. He and another buddy survived the lethal scourge of the 1980s.

Unlike many people who remember so fondly the San Fernando Valley and talk badly about its present condition, he finds that some things have gotten better. He misses the horse farms and orange groves, but he loves all the trees and greenery that has come up in the last 60 years. He remembers the view of the mountains that was so clear in the early 1950s, and now those views are returning as cars burn cleaner.

His last job was at Barnes and Noble in Encino, and he does regret the loss of the store, which was closed by greedy billionaire owner Rick Caruso and will be replaced with another CVS.

Mike is retiring to Puerto Vallarta. And at age 65, he will take his optimism down to Mexico, which is also a place where people have hard lives but smile frequently.

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