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Michigan Arts & Culture

Essay: Raffia Basket

Mrs. Joy was my sixth grade teacher and she wasn’t anything like her name. With black-rimmed glasses perched on her large nose, she stared hard at each of us and demanded excellence. 

When a test revealed that I was reading above grade level, I was proud—but she said, “You could do better.”

Nothing could get in the way of our achievement—and it was the same with creative projects.

One day, Mrs. Joy hung some colorful raffia around the room and announced, “We’re all going to learn to make baskets.”

Soon we were selecting long strands of red and orange and green fiber to wrap around a length of clothesline, shaping it into a circle and snugging up the sides.

Then the snake that lived in an aquarium disappeared. Mrs. Joy did not flinch. “You work on your baskets,” she counseled. “I’ll work on the snake.”

Wading fearlessly into the raffia, she snatched the snake from a tangle of red and promptly returned him to his cage.

My finished basket was a little lop-sided but I was thrilled to present it to my mother. It lasted forever, full of safety pins and paper clips, in her kitchen drawer.

Still, Mrs. Joy probably would have said, “You could do better.”