The Balls of Bothell

At a bend in the road just outside of Bothell there was a sign hanging from a tall post next to a driveway that wound steeply up into the woods. I don’t remember when I first noticed this sign, but at some point it become something about which I said “Oh, there’s that sign.” It always startled me, not only because it seemed so unusual but also because it was suddenly there, suddenly right there if you happened to be looking into the trees beside the highway, and then you’d pass it, and it was really such an inconspicuous little thing. But after that happened a few times I began to sort of look for it and say “is it coming up or did we already pass it? Or was it on a different curve, maybe closer to Kenmore?”

The sign was a wooden sign less than two feet high and a foot wide*, and it had gold letters on it that cheerfully announced “The Balls of Bothell”. In smaller letters was written “Darl and Jeannine”. You couldn’t see the house because of all the tall firs along the driveway, and the driveway had obviously been there since State Route 522 had been just a two-lane road. There was something really — I don’t know, adorable I guess, in the deliberate forfeiture of this couple’s anonymity along one of the busiest roads in the state. The sign seemed like some liveried messenger from an earlier time sent down the driveway to shout out the names of the lairds o’ that place to all passers-by. It seemed so unnecessarily and hopelessly friendly to declare not only their presence but their first and last names as well before an unceasing stream of cars heading either east or west in great haste, but in any case not stopping to visit the Balls.

What kind of people would hang up a sign like that?

My wife and I made frequent trips exploring northwards out of town in the early years of our marriage, and at some point the Balls’ sign became a thing we looked forward to as a sort of road ritual. Old farmhouses gave way to stacks of condos along this road, and old favorite restaurants like the Schnitzelbank Restaurant became other things, but through it all, no matter what else changed, there was this nifty moment on your way home when you rounded that sharp turn and ho! “The Balls of Bothell – Darl and Jeannine”.

We imagined what they were like, the Balls. We saw them jolly and fond of company, and always honoring of each other, perhaps like Mr. and Mrs. Bagnet in Dickens’ Bleak House. We wondered what would happen if we just slowed down and turned there one time, drove up the driveway and called upon them by name. Would they just roll with it? Had that actually happened to them a number of times before? Would there be cookies or some pie, maybe? It reminded me of a short story I read at some point in that long ice age that was my formal education — a story about a locomotive engineer who passes a farmhouse every day on his run, and every day waves back to the woman and little child who stand, every day, at the edge of their field waving at him, and one day after several years, after watching the child grow larger, he gathers his courage, puts on nice clothes, and goes to the farmhouse to introduce himself. I don’t remember what actually happens, but I remember that it was some kind of disaster. The woman is cold and unfriendly, and maybe the kid is a helion. Anyway, you can see the obvious lesson in it. Don’t knock on the door of a fantasy.

We’ll never know about the Balls now. One day late last year, or early this year, we rounded the curve and the sign wasn’t there. My eyes surveyed the situation instantly and thoroughly — we were in the right place; the trees had not grown significantly, nor had the underbrush. The sign was just gone. We were stricken and dumbfounded. On a later trip past the curve it appeared that some trees had been cleared, because we could see the house up on the hill, big sheets of plywood covering the windows. The house was not to be sold, then, but knocked down.

I’ve been meaning ever since to google the Balls of Bothell and see if anyone else besides us had developed an attachment to this sign and the legendary (and maybe imaginary) couple it announced. I did it today and indeed, another blogger has already eulogized the Balls of Bothell, though she mainly focused on the bawdy pun that their name lends itself to (warning: cuss words and potty humor). I thought it was worth mentioning at least. Things go away when you don’t pay attention to them and they go away even when you do pay attention, and the thing is, when they go away, they’re not there anymore.

*Incorrect; it was actually a good bit larger, as I discovered firsthand later. This story grew and took on a life of its own, as you can tell from the comments below. I wrote a follow-up post to this one in September 2013 that includes several photographs of the sign and of Darl and Jeannine; you can find it here.


42 Responses to “The Balls of Bothell”

  1. 1 Marni June 26, 2009 at 17:06

    It’s as if you stumbled into your own private, speculative Narnia- and now the wardrobe door is padlocked. You’ve gone and made me all wistful with this one Matthew- good job!

  2. 2 Janet August 12, 2010 at 08:24

    A friend of mine bought a Chrysler 440 engine from Balls of Bothell. Apparently it’s a small wrecking yard.

    • 3 jstwndrng August 12, 2010 at 08:29

      Hi Janet,
      That’s something I didn’t know. I wonder when that was…maybe old Darl had a little crowbar operation going on in the backyard, or if more recently, maybe there’s a new yard on the old homesite and they decided to honor the venerable “early settlers” by keeping the name. Anyway, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • 4 BRADLEY MITCHELL March 1, 2013 at 18:46

      No not a wrecking yard,I am Balls nephew,my mother was was balls sister.

  3. 5 aplscruf January 11, 2011 at 14:30

    I live in Bothell, and I remember thinking the same thing while driving around the bend on 522. Who ARE those Balls, anyway? I also liked the wooden sign, “Welcome to Bothell…For a Day or a Lifetime.” Annually, someone would paint over “Bot” and it would then read, “Welcome to hell…” I would giggle every time!

    • 6 jstwndrng January 11, 2011 at 14:55

      Hi aplscruf,
      Yes, I always thought the “or a Lifetime” sounded ominous, too, even without the hell joke. So you’re a Bothellian. There used to be a neat little coffee joint on the road going north out of Bothell town (527) toward Country Village…it was in a little house (the house is still there on the right side at maybe 188th and Bothell Way or so) and it had a great name that I forget. Like many good things it is no more.

  4. 7 Darl C Ball October 28, 2012 at 10:12

    For those of you that are wondering about the ” Balls of Bothell ”
    I am alive and well . living in port Angeles. , Jeannine past away a few years back. thanks for the fond interest in that old sign of mine, of wich i still have.
    Darl Ball the BALLS of BOTHELL

    • 8 Matt October 28, 2012 at 10:24

      Hi Darl,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment here. It makes such a great addition to this post. Sorry to hear your wife is gone. We still feel wistful when we go by your old place. We wish you the best.

    • 9 mathew Jenkins October 26, 2013 at 18:24

      Hi Darl its good to here your still ok.My name is matt Jenkins ,brother of cj and dont forget old Im sorry to hear about your wife.Have you heard from smitty? I know i havn’t.Well take care of yourself.

  5. 11 Bradley A Mitchell December 24, 2012 at 13:45

    M name is Bradley A Mitchell I am the nephew of Darl Ball my mother was Darls sister Darl was a merchant seaman during World War II sailed the North Atlantic during the war years very brave soul he was.

    • 12 Matt December 24, 2012 at 14:45

      Hi Bradley,
      Your uncle logged in to give us a status update not two months ago (see comment above). Thanks for stopping by and for leaving an honoring comment.

      • 13 Bradley Mitchell February 28, 2013 at 21:41

        This is Bradley again,Balls nephew,I now have that old sign.

        • 14 Matt February 28, 2013 at 23:05

          Hi Bradley,
          I’m so glad to hear that! How would you like to send me a photo of it so I can post an update? Or post it somewhere like Flickr or Panoramio and then put a link to it in a comment here?

          • 15 BRADLEY MITCHELL March 1, 2013 at 08:49

            How about you come to my house in Kirkland and you can take as many photos of it as you want?Let me know if your interested and I will send you my email and at that time I will give you my contact information.

            • 16 Matt March 1, 2013 at 09:04

              Bradley (Mitch?),
              I will definitely do that. I already have your email address since you’ve left comments…I can dig that out of the admin here. It might be a few weeks since I’m undergoing some significant upheaval in my career right now, but thank you for the offer. I’ll certainly take you up on it.

              • 17 BRADLEY MITCH MITCHELL March 1, 2013 at 13:57

                No problem when you email me put (BALLS OF BOTHELL) in the subject line please so I don’t delete it,and Mitch is short for Mitchell.

  6. 18 Martyn Jessup March 25, 2013 at 06:40

    I enjoyed your Blog on the Balls of Bothell, I was a very close friend of the Balls and I think you should have gone up that driveway Jeannine Ball was a wonderful person who probably would have invited you in for pie and coffee.Darl Ball was a very nice man who would bend over backwards too help any friend in need and a happy person.Sadly I just learned that Darl Has Passed away,I was coming out too visit with friends and hoping too do some fishing with him so we could stockpile some seafood for a Barbecue I am going too have too get all my friends together for a night of stories and good food I’ll definitively be thinking about the Balls of Bothell.

    • 19 Matt March 25, 2013 at 17:21

      Thanks for the comment. I’m sad to hear of this. Darl and Jeannine were something of a legend to us. After I read your comment today I contacted the Bothell Reporter to let them know Darl had died. Do you know when that was? Maybe they’ve already done an obit, but I think they should do at least a little story about that old sign. Where did you and Darl used to fish?

  7. 20 Martyn Jessup March 29, 2013 at 02:23

    Hello Matt; I fished with Darl for salmon in Lake Washington Using downriggers and I fished using shrimp and dungeness traps in Hood canal around the Seabec area and we fished north of Edmonton for Spot Prawns and Dungeness but mostly for spot Prawns we had some very good yields.Friskies Cat food was the secret weapon.Punch a bunch of holes in it with your jack knife and stick it in a Bait container in the trap toss it in the spot where your catching them Darl had all the cool equipment for finding our prey a pothauler and color fish finder for reading the bottom,we’d get a load then take our haul back to the hill and pop of there heads vacuum pack them toss them in the freezer and go back out and do the afternoon haul and pic up all the traps I could not go out every day with Darl but I had alot of fun out there with Darl.I use to have a side buisseness as a Dungeness Crab Dealer and ship Crab back to the East Coast so that allowed me too buy from any of the Seafood distrbutors so annthing we needed for a feed I could buy wholsale.Have to go now I;ll get back to you the date latter. Martyn

    • 21 Matt March 29, 2013 at 22:13

      Great memories you’ve posted here. I’m amazed at all the detail you’re able to bring back. I wonder whether you meant Edmonds rather than Edmonton? We have an Edmonds up the road here, and it’s on the Puget Sound, but the only Edmonton I know of is in Alberta, Canada and I would question the health of their prawn stock so far inland. Yes, please let us know the date if you can find out. Thanks and all the best to you.

  8. 22 Jeremy April 12, 2013 at 20:23

    I was lucky enough to have gotten to know Darl. I fished with him several times and learned many things which will come in handy in life.I have met several amazing people in my life but Darl is top my list by the example we showed me.Not just a nice guy but a Amazing person in so many ways.Im so lucky to have learned an laughed with him.

    • 23 Matt April 13, 2013 at 22:54

      Thank you for your testimony about a person who I’m learning was apparently a wonderful fellow. It feels as though this blog post is becoming a host site for memories about Darl and Jeannine and I hope that the comments keep coming. I never dreamed when I wrote this piece years ago that it would be found by Darl and people who knew and loved him and Jeanine. They must have been quite a pair.

  9. 24 Debbie Gervasi April 13, 2013 at 15:57

    Mitch and I attended Darl’s memorial service this morning. Lot’s of friends and family attended with good food and stories afterward. Thanks for the thoughtfulness regarding this remarkable man, and his lovely and generous wife. They both were kind and friends to many-and yes you probably would have gotten that pie and cookies you thought might be at the end of the driveway, along with an ear to listen, a slap on the back and something said to make you belly-laugh.I wanted to let you know that there was a suggestion for doing a story, made a month or two ago by Mitch to one of the reporters. It is my understanding something is already underway…all that can be said about that is we just have to wait to see…what will be revealed.

    • 25 Matt April 13, 2013 at 22:59

      Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for visiting and for the comment. I hope someone does do a story. Will you let me know? I don’t get the Bothell paper so I won’t see anything they might do. If they don’t, let me know and maybe I’ll write one myself. If the North End papers don’t want it I could even post it here. Give my best regards to Mitch. I still mean to come out and take photos of that old sign he now has, but I just lost a family member myself and things are very difficult right now for us. It may be a while yet, but I haven’t forgotten.

  10. 26 mITCH May 23, 2013 at 21:43

    Matt this is Mitch Darls nephew,better hurry that old sign is leaving soon.

    • 27 Mike June 5, 2013 at 10:15

      Mitch, do you still have the sign? I started a Facebook group called “You know you are from Bothell if…” a few years ago… We have over 2000 members. The subject comes up quite often, and I know many people who would get a kick out of seeing a picture of it…Thanks, Mike

      • 28 Matt June 5, 2013 at 21:56

        Hi Mike,
        Nice FB page you have there. I went and visited Mitch last weekend and took photos of the sign. I’ll post them in an update sometime soon. If you want I could let you know when it’s up.

        • 29 Mike June 6, 2013 at 06:37

          Thanks Matt, If you are not already a member of “You know you are from Bothell if..” on FB, just click “ask to join” I will add you right away. Please post those pictures as people would love to see the sign again!!! If you are interested, I also have a group called “You know you are from Kirkland if…” We have over 5000 members on there…It has been a lot of fun seeing all the old pictures and memories. I grew up in North Juanita, and spent a lot of time in both towns.

    • 30 Charnell Morud June 6, 2013 at 21:22

      Mitch, it’s Charnell. Where is the sign going to? Please call or email us.

  11. 31 Charnell Morud June 6, 2013 at 19:33

    I just found this via a facebook post for Inglemoor alumni. I was so surprised to find all this about my mom and stepdad. They were both wonderful people and if you would like any additional information for a story I’d be happy to help out. One piece of trivia: The Ball’s of Bothell sign was once used on someone’s scavenger hunt list for a party. Folks asked for their picture to be taken in front of the sign which they did do for them!

    • 32 Matt June 7, 2013 at 06:07

      Hi Charnell,
      Thanks for stopping by. I chatted with Mitch for a good hour or so and he showed me some photos of “Ball” as he called his uncle Darl. I’m planning on doing an update with photos but it may not be right away…I have put the blog on the back burner because of recent family events and Life in General.

  12. 33 Mitch June 9, 2013 at 21:10

    Mike this is Mitch,and yes I have the sign.

    • 34 Kris Kirkpatrick May 29, 2014 at 08:31

      Balls of Bothell
      Hey Mitch, I bought a colonial style house in Maltby built by ‘Guy Ball’ – any relation? I see that D & J Construction was registered at my address, maybe Guy Ball’s son and daughter in law? (the famous Balls of Bothell?). I have found several really old (empty) whisky bottles in the attic, and have wondered about Mr. Ball. The house is extremely well built and I always wish I could thank him.

  13. 37 Martyn Jessup July 24, 2013 at 10:31

    Hey there I’m in Bothell and have seen the new look to Wayne curve you really can’t tell we all lived on the hill any more.I guess I’ll have to go walk it and see if there are any artifacts.Martyn

    • 38 Charnell Morud July 24, 2013 at 17:15

      You are bound to find something given all of the things Darl lost up there over the years!!!!

      Take care.

  14. 39 Michael October 18, 2014 at 10:37

    I was just wondering about that old sign too, I always enjoyed it as Bothell was so conservative back then!

    • 40 Matt October 23, 2014 at 10:04

      Hi Michael,
      Sorry for the delay approving your comment. It got away from me. Thanks for reading and commenting. I didn’t initially see the sign as “not conservative”, but after all I’ve learned since this original post, I get it now.

  15. 41 Naomi Miller December 18, 2017 at 12:56

    I am very familiar with that sign.
    That belonged to my Aunt and Uncle. Aunt Jeannine was my mothers’ sister I called her Aunt NeeNee. We had lots of laughs about that sign and it was a topic of converstion on many occasions when we came to visit. I am Canadian with an American Mother. The curve in the road to turn onto their property became more difficult because of increased traffic we always looked for that infanous sign “The Balls of Bothel”.
    To add to this story My Aunt Jeannine was the book keeper and answered the phones while my Uncle was running his Rockery business. One day this man called looking for Darl and my Aunt Jeannine answered the phone. The man said, “Have I got Balls?” My Aunt replied,
    Yes you….Have!

    Another Joke in the family.
    Hope you got a laugh from that.
    God rest their souls. My Aunt had a great sence of humor and was alot of fun.

    Naomi Miller
    ( NaomiWinterburn)

  1. 1 The Balls of Bothell II | Just Wondering Trackback on September 29, 2013 at 19:52

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