The Arizona grandma who went viral for mistakenly inviting a man to Thanksgiving dinner continued the tradition this year as they spent their sixth holiday together.
According to Inside Edition, Wanda Dench, 64, started the holiday tradition when she accidentally texted Jamal Hinton, 21, thinking she was initially speaking to her grandson. However, Hinton was a total stranger at the time, as he received Dench’s messages in a high school classroom.
While Dench is thankful to have Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, present for Thanksgiving, she will be staring across an empty chair as she spends her second Thanksgiving in a row without her husband, Lonnie, who died of COVID-19 in April 2020, Inside Edition reported.
We are all set for year 6! 🦃 pic.twitter.com/wEQioizWGd
— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 14, 2021
The pair’s inspiring relationship began in 2016 when Dench’s wrong text turned her into a viral sensation.
Initially, Dench thought she was sending a text message to her grandson to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, her message was sent to someone who would later become one of her closest friends.
Hinton, a 17-year-old high school senior at the time, was in class when he received the puzzling text from a number he didn’t recognize. He replied, asking who had sent it.
“Your grandma,” Dench wrote back. “Grandma?” Hinton replied. “Can I have a picture?”
Dench was taken aback at the person, whom she thought was her grandson, asking her to take a picture of herself. However, she dutifully sent the photo to Hinton.
The conversation turned into a hilarious yet, memorable moment they will never forget.
“You not my grandma,” Hinton said. “Can I still get a plate tho?”
While Dench felt embarrassed after realizing she had texted the wrong person, she swiftly recovered with her response.
“Of course you can,” she wrote back. “That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone.”
The teen posted the conversation on Twitter, where it garnered over 150,000 retweets instantly, per Inside Edition.
From that moment forward, Hinton and his girlfriend have celebrated Thanksgiving with Dench and her family. Even last year, Dench did not feel like celebrating the holiday so soon after losing the love of her life.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Dench recently told Inside Edition Digital. “I knew it was going to be tough with COVID, social distancing, quarantines, masks. Jamal and I were talking about it.”
This year, they decided to keep the gathering small. “It was just five of us. My daughter put my husband’s picture on the table with a candle,” and the group toasted present and absent friends, according to Inside Edition.
Dench gushed while speaking of Hinton’s success six years later; he is a salesman for water-softener systems. The Arizona grandma said he has turned into a fine young man, and she is as proud as a grandmother could be, she said.
She expected this year’s holiday gathering to be bittersweet.
“We were married 42 years. he was definitely my soul mate,” she said. Last year “was emotional for me, but I know he was there in spirit. He just loved all the news media attention Jamal and I got,” she said.
“I miss him every day. I tell him I love him every day. I wish he were here to be part of it. I know he is around me all the time, so I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward,” Dench said.
Hinton’s unexpected appearance brought joy to both Dench and her husband’s lives.
“To meet someone as special as he is, the friendship we have developed is priceless,” she said.
Hinton is “mature for his age. He’s very caring and attentive to people,” Dench explained.
“I used to wear a lot of pink. One year, he bought me a pink sweatshirt, and I said, ‘How did you know about the pink?’ And he said, ‘You wear it all the time, and you always seem to brighten up when you wear it.'”
Despite the racial differences and age gap between herself and Hinton and his girlfriend, Dench said they had become the closest friends, regularly sitting for hours in a restaurant, just talking.
“They changed my life. I’m just in awe over them,” she said. “I don’t have anything to worry about with this generation. They’re going to be just fine.”
Dench says she plans to make thanksgiving dinner a little differently in 2022.
“I’m going to push Jamal to have it next time,” she said, laughing.