He Wasn't Religious, But He Went American Gospel

After my mother died, my father, who had never used a cell phone in his life, decided he wanted to use the new phone we had just given her for Christmas.

We were fine with that—the phone was just sitting abandoned on the kitchen counter, battery draining.

When we had given her the phone on Christmas Day, her grandchildren had huddled around her, playing with the voice activation. They recorded each of their namesin high-pitched voices. They wanted her to be able to call them anytime, on a whim, even if she were driving.

But she would never end up using it in that way. Even under lipstick and a brave face, her bones were tired. We weren’t surprised on February 1, 2007 when she slipped away.

When my father decided he wanted to start using the phone, I told him I’d show him how. I deleted two messages my mother had saved: one of her grandchildren singing “Happy Birthday” from the May before, and a more recent one from my sister, where she said, “Hi Mom, just calling to check on you.”

I helped him record a new voicemail message on it, although I hesitated having to delete what the last recording of our mother’s voice.

Dad was a music aficionado—he loved classical, jazz and blues. He had a hundred CDs of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington. So he wanted to change the ringtone to something more musically sophisticated. I played all of the options for him in order: “Bach Fugue in D Minor,” “Calypso,” “The Entertainer.” He listened carefully, as if it mattered, as if he would be taking a flurry of calls.

In the end, he made his choice:

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Oh, when the saints go marching in

Lord I want to be in that number

When the saints go marching in.