One of my early posts was called The Balls of Bothell. The Balls, Darl and Jeannine, lived for many many years on a curve of the busy road that runs around the north end of Lake Washington. I never met them, but like thousands or even millions of people traveling on Wasthington State Route 522 (called Bothell Way on that stretch), my wife and I had become familiar and even attached to their wooden sign, which we looked for and verbally celebrated every time we came around the curve in the highway where we knew it waited to announce their habitation at that place. It said “The Balls of Bothell” in big gold letters, and then in smaller letters beneath that it said “Darl and Jeannine”.
The sign hung from a post at the bottom of the Balls’ driveway. It was there for ages and then one day it was gone. I wrote a blog post about the sign and about our experience of the sign, and wondered what kind of people the Balls were and whether they were aware of how time and the increase in traffic on that once quiet country road had rendered strange such an exuberantly personal and inviting sign. (You know me…just wondering.) I didn’t have a photo of the sign to go with that post, and at the time I had no reason to think I’d ever see it again.
If you go to that post and read through the comments that readers posted, you’ll see that old Darl himself eventually got wind of my post and logged in to give a shout out to all his fans, reporting that he still had the old sign and the sad news that Jeannine had passed on a few years earlier. I made a mental note to track him down and ask him if I could come look at the old board and take some photos of it, but I never got around to doing it.
Then Darl died, a fact I learned in those same comments when his relatives and friends started turning up and leaving little eulogies to him and Jeannine. One of those people was Darl’s nephew, Bradley Mitchell, who goes by Mitch and in conversation calls his uncle simply “Ball”. Mitch commented to let me know the sign had come to him and that if I wanted to see it I should come over to his home in Kirkland soon, because he was preparing to ship the sign to some relatives out of state who had the Ball surname.
I visited Mitch this past June. He is an interesting character in his own right, having himself many times been the subject of magazine and newspaper articles and television segments because of his large collection of deep sea diving gear and other marine equipment, many specimens of which fill his home. In the relatively small world of deep sea diving gear hobbyists, I’m sure his is a household name. But he clearly lives in a state of constant and enduring admiration of the man he calls simply “Ball,” and while he commented with very few words about anything related to his own celebrity, he was fairly verbose about his uncle’s life and times, and had dragged out for my perusal numerous photos and several paper artifacts from his uncle’s days in the Merchant Marine (Certificate of Efficiency to Lifeboat Man, serial number B71663; Certificate of Service to Able Seaman, serial number A120679; and a temporary American passport issued by the American consul at the East African port city then known as Laurenço de Marques, now Maputo in the People’s Republic of Mozambique).
I took several photos of the photographs he laid out. I spent an hour with him during which he said a lot of things that I did not write down and which I cannot now remember. I do recall him noting several times that Ball joined the Merchant Marine even though he couldn’t swim a stroke. That single fact seemed to represent the very gizzard of the man for Mitch. He also told me, something that may be of interest to history, that his was the third sign the Balls hung, that two others had been stolen over the years. I can’t remember if he said the earlier ones were smaller or larger, but I think they were not all of the same dimensions. It’s my opinion that when the stolen ones eventually turn up in some garage or at a flea market, they should be given to the City of Bothell for museum pieces.
You can read about Mitch in this April 7, 2007 Seattle Times article, and if you catch up with Mitch you can ask him all about his Uncle Darl, how the man went to Texas or someplace to buy a large piece of construction equipment — a crane, I think — and drove the thing all the way back to Seattle to use in the landscape business he’d started after the war. I would have liked to be able to relate more of what Mitch told me about him, since I had openly wondered about the Balls in my earlier post, but it wasn’t the right time and I was not on my reporter game.
Nevertheless, my main purpose was fulfilled; I got to see the sign again, which was much larger than I had remembered. And because I know there are so many out there who remember it fondly, I provide a couple of pictures of it herebelow, with thanks to Bradley Mitchell for letting me take them and use them.
Update 29 May 2014: This story never seems to come to an end. People keep commenting on the original Balls of Bothell post. Someone commented today, actually a comment addressed to Mitch (shown above) not to me. But it got me curious, so I did some googling and found a Bothell Reporter obituary for Jeannine that included a small photo of her, which I include herebelow. I don’t have any rights to the material, but I’m claiming “educational purposes”. I thought people might like to see a photo of one of the principles in this strangely ongoing tale. There’s also a Facebook page called “You know you’re from Bothell if…”, where the facilitator posted one of the above photos of the sign, and the comments it drew are very interesting and enlightening. One old Bothellian recalls that a photo of the sign made an appearance on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show or David Letterman’s Late Night. Also, almost unbelievably, the first “Balls” sign was made by a person named Cox.
Jeannine Ball, 81, passed away quietly in her sleep on Tuesday, September 22, 2010 surrounded by those she loved. Those who loved her know her long battle with illness is over and she is at peace. Jeannine will be remembered for her loving spirit, caring nature, and bright sparkling eyes. A friend to all, she lived in the Bothell area for nearly 40 years. She was an avid gardener who loved her roses and dahlias along with the birds and wildlife they attracted. Jeannine’s indomitable spirit and never-ending sense of humor were an inspiration to all. She leaves behind three daughters, Bobbie Metters, Debbie Rayburn (Buck) and Charnell Morud (Doug) and six grandchildren: Jayson, Katherine, Charles, Tessa, Carey, and Evan. Sisters Jorgia Irish, Sandra Winterburn (Victor) and their families, as well as former husband and friend, Darl Ball, are with her in spirit. All will miss her dearly but rejoice in having shared her life. Jeannine knew the true meaning of love. Her legacy is that she shared so much of that love with her family, friends and everyone she encountered. Services were held Thursday, September 30 at Purdy & Walters at Floral Hills in Lynnwood. To view the everlasting memorial visit http://www.dignitymemorial.com. Remembrances may be made to Meals on Wheels or other services for seniors.
Following the obituary’s trail, I also found her archived remembrance page on the Dignity Memorial website, where a gallery preserves several dozen pictures of Jeannine taken throughout her life, from childhood to her last days. One of them — and again, I have no rights to it so tell me if it is yours and you don’t want it up here — is this wonderful image: