Peik Larsen died July 23, 2014, in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was 42 years old.
As a father of young twins, Peik was fearless. He took them while his wife worked — and joyous, meandering adventures ensued. He and the four year olds would spend hours buying a cooking pan, researching a recipe, and making beef bourguignon.
Or the three of them would pack their fishing rods and bike along the Charles, prepared to catch nothing. When the boys got tired, Peik loaded their bikes into a carry-all behind his, and loaded the two of them into an attached trailer. Years of free-spirited life had readied him for this.
Peik had been 13 months old when nuns escorted him from a Da Nang orphanage in Vietnam to the United States. He weighed around 10 pounds; it was January; he had never felt winter before.
The Cambridge family he entered was large and enthused — eventually, it grew to 10 children. Their raising was an organizational feat, and the 12-person minivan had assigned seating. In some ways, Peik was their social heart: good-humored, grudge-less, unfazed and without anger (or even, for that matter, curiosity) about his difficult beginnings. Academically, he struggled, but with such charm and bebop comedic timing that teachers adored him. Every friend he made thought they were his best friend — and he thought so, too.
College didn’t work the first time, so Peik hopped a train to Seattle, pausing in Spokane to live in a homeless mission and run the food pantry there. He worked for a few years on an Alaskan fishing boat, found his way to the Bay Area, and coached gymnastics, which he'd learned growing up. Even though he'd had multiple leg surgeries from a post-polio syndrome, he could still do backflips into his twenties. This was the free-spirited life.
But he was missing something — cruising on charm and humor, yet essentially solitary. He was back in Boston, working for Jet Blue airline, when he met his wife. In wonderful, small-world fashion, she had grown up around the corner from him.
The twins followed rapidly after their marriage, and Peik was all hands on: a fearless diaperer, and organizer of the family clock. That Jet Blue job had been perfect for someone slavish about time. “We’re leaving in 23 minutes,” he would warn. “We’re seven minutes from departure. We’re about to deplane.”
In the midst of diapers and bottles, he’d also returned to college. He knew finally, in his forties, that he wanted to work with children, and was about to begin teaching 6th grade — in the same school where he had once been a restless student.
Death was mysterious and abrupt; a rare sepsis, finished in hours. His wife doesn’t plan to commemorate the day he died. Instead, she’ll commemorate the day before. Peik had returned from a fishing trip with buddies; it was afternoon, and she was dozing with the twins in bed, newly pregnant again. He was sun-kissed, covered with the smell of his catches, absolutely in need of a shower. But first, he climbed into bed with them, and they were tender all together.
Did you know Peik Larsen? Share your memories in the comments section.
This segment aired on August 26, 2015.