Rounding a corner on the highway half-way between Aulac, New Brunswick and Cape Tormentine, en route to catch the P.E.I. Ferry, your vision is accosted by a large and rather peculiar gathering, a colony of unmoving and mute figures who sprawl over an embankment in front of a roadside country farm.
These are Andy MacDonald's "people" - put together from Javex bottles, discarded remnants and other assorted oddments, and usually accompanied by a liquor or beer bottle. Arranged in a superb assortment of attitudes to resemble a pantomime in suspension, each figure has pinned to him a piece of cloth or plastic on which is written his most distinguishing thoughts. These wonderfully flamboyant people, holding conversations with each other, are infused with their author's witty perception. They also require a lot of care. After every rainstorm, the water must be emptied from their boots, their heads straightened after a high wind, and their bottles kept close at hand.
Andy MacDonald is an easy-going Cape Bretoner from Sydney Mines who first began his family using a Javex bottle and a worn red sweater of his own. An offended neighbour, mistaking the figure for Andy, called shortly after it took its place in front of the farm to complain that Andy had not returned his greeting. Andy felt his second offspring was lonely (he has one real child), so he made another, then another, and the next year he decided they definitely required a community of "people" like themselves, to create a group spirit. The spirit and the "family" materialized. According to Andy, the characters shape themselves as soon as he starts them; he knows what they are thinking and what they want to say, and chuckles to himself as each new member evolves after its own particular pattern. Are Andy's characters based on real people - the neighbours, perhaps? He says no, "... but they must come from somewhere, from back in the past." He tells of his father, a miner so strict in his conception of family behavior that everybody was forbidden to whistle on Sunday, not even a hymn. Andy sees the most gregarious of his characterizations as an expression of "back talk" to his father. Andy refers to his "family" with as much humour and pleasure as if they were real, and indeed, visitors coming to the farm often find a friend amongst the vibrant collection, someone they know and like. Once, an elderly gentleman from Massachusetts was so amused by the first two figures he spotted that his sons had to help him, bent double with laughter, back to the car. Andy says he can tell where the visitors come from by their reactions. Maritimers, and especially Cape Bretoners and Newfoundlanders, derive the biggest laugh, he says, and understand the "family" with the greatest alacrity.
Andy has a propensity for collecting people, real and otherwise. Each character has a name and an incredible story behind it. Try to get Andy to give you a personal tour, it's his whole life. If you have a name that hasn't been immortalized by one of his dummies, he'll be interested in turning your name into one of his characters.
He'll give you a rap about the Maritimes that you'll not find written anywhere.