Karen Tripson lectures at McKee Botanical Garden

It was a bit like old-home week at McKee Botanical Garden last Saturday afternoon, where members of the Sexton and Tripson families were joined by longtime Veroite friends and a sprinkling of newcomers for a lecture by Karen Tripson, author of The Cooking Class in Kuala Lumpur.

Tripson, a granddaughter of Waldo and Elsebeth Sexton, currently resides with her husband in Seattle, but has fond childhood memories of Vero, growing up here with her sister Logan and brothers Mark and Jens and parents John and Barbara (Sexton) Tripson. Waldo died when she was 14.

Everyone who knew Papa, as he was known to the kids, has his or her favorite Waldo stories and Karen happily shared some of hers with the audience, beginning with the former McKee Jungle Gardens, which is a far cry from today’s well-tended McKee Botanical Garden.

Tripson remembered that as a child she found it terrifying, saying that the showman in Waldo had created a place with “a lot of thrills and chills.”

When she entered the picture in the early ‘50s, the Tripson family lived on 12th Street, then a one-lane dirt road. Their house was alongside that of Waldo and Elsebeth, where Elsebeth’s sister and mother, who lived to be 104, also resided. As the youngest of the siblings, Karen said that the older kids were often off doing their own thing, so she was a frequent visitor nextdoor.

“There was always something going on over there. And every time I came through the door, I got a treat! Elsebeth had a sweet tooth that was unbelievable.”

She partially credits her joy of cooking to her childhood, saying, “They loved food in general and took great pleasure in mealtime.”

Her favorite memories of Waldo were watching him work, often methodically and patiently restoring wrought-iron pieces, and despite the effort involved says, “I always thought he had more fun than any of the other adults.”

Tripson was with him as Waldo’s Mountain was being built, “because of course, Vero Beach desperately needed a mountain.” She also fondly remembers modeling for a couple of the murals on the walls of the Turf Club, which is now home to the Szechuan Palace.

“My takeaway was to enjoy your work, pay attention to the details and enjoy your food,” said Tripson.

Working at Waldo’s at the Driftwood and at the Patio, she discovered that she liked cooking, and would eventually try her hand at various other careers before deciding to become an author.

“I wanted to write a book about cooking. I wanted to write it about people my age. I wanted to have a good man for a husband. I wanted to not have any serial murderers.”

It was at a cooking class in Kuala Lumpur where she realized she had an idea for the book.

“It’s culinary fiction. There’s food on every page, but the story is about entertaining, traveling and mid-life career worries.”

Tripson read a few passages from her book, before treating attendees to a sample of the Malaysian cuisine featured in her book – Fruit Rojak, and a Malaysian curry called Rendang.

Copies of The Cooking Class in Kuala Lumpur are available at the Vero Beach Book Center.

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