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.