90s, Blog, TV — November 10, 2014 10:14 am

Under the Umbrella Tree: A Strange Hobby

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The year was 1995.  Spending a summer night at a friend’s house didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.  Our families were so tight, that we were practically step brothers for a few years.  Still, there was a secret about my friend that I was destined to discover during this hang out session.

Back when the Disney Channel was an up-charge premium cable channel, most viewers only got to enjoy it during the special free preview weeks that ran throughout the year.  Lucky enough was I that my good friend’s parents subscribed to the Disney Channel.  This means I got to enjoy a rare treat of special programming every time I went over there.

On this fateful night, we sat down on the white and pink living room couch.  Why couches came in stitched white and pink pattern in the early 1990s is still a mystery to me, though I digress.  The two of us were just across the way from the gigantic 24” screen, seemingly swallowed in the midst of a giant home entertainment center.  He grabbed the remote and clicked to the Disney Channel.  The evening’s journey had just begun.

Two decades later and I’m still not sure what an umbrella tree is.

It was a series I had never seen before, Under the Umbrella Tree.  A gopher, a bluejay, and an iguana talked through the screen in puppet form.  I was both intrigued and more than a little confused by a human woman living with anthropomorphic puppet animals.  By the time I started to make sense of the show, I looked over and noticed my friend was missing.  Before I had a minute to wonder where he went, he came back down the hall carrying a pencil basket filled with paper and aluminum balls.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.

I watched in silence as he returned to the couch and reached his hand down to the basket.  He grabbed a paper ball and chucked it toward the TV.  “All right!” he proclaimed, “I got Iggy.”  Next he went for an aluminum ball, which made a hollow plunk sound as it hit the glass of the CRT screen.  “Yes!  Gloria!”

This was some sort of target practice for him.  Moments earlier, I was overwhelmingly confused by Under the Umbrella Tree.  That was nothing compared to wrapping my brain around this one.  His parents, who were usually pretty strict, walked through the living room and weren’t phased by this at all.  I asked them if this was an approved activity and they said that’s what he normally did during episodes of Under the Umbrella Tree.

Okay, then.  Not wanting to be left out on the fun, I reached for the nearest wadded up ball and joined in on this ridiculously strange hobby.

To this day, I can’t encounter an iguana in life without the urge to throw a paper ball.  I’m still not clear why he chose Under the Umbrella Tree versus any other show on any other channel.  I have nothing against Under the Umbrella Tree or puppet gophers, but I’ll never forget the most surreal sleepover from my childhood.

A historical reenactment of this strange hobby.

Ten years later, I still had the same old wood paneled TV I’d had forever.  I decided to wad up a bucket full of paper balls, pull up an episode, and give it another go.  Sure enough, it was still pretty entertaining to hear the thunk of balls bouncing off the screen.



  • Everything about this is brilliant. First off, I remember those special times of the year when the Disney Channel had free previews. My parents never dropped the cash to get the network.

    That story and the reenactment are incredibly ridiculous and funny. I’ve never even heard of this show before! What a bizarre way to learn.

  • TheSewerDen Really takes you back to the days of free preview weeks and pay-per-hour dial-up Internet service, doesn’t it?  🙂

    Glad we could introduce you to the world of Under the Umbrella Tree in a strange way.

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