Arizona grandmother Wanda Dench will spend Thanksgiving with Jamal Hinton for the sixth consecutive year. Jamal Hinton is a young man she received by text and mistakenly assumed she was talking to her grandson.
Hinton was completely new to the high school classrom at that time.
For the second consecutive year, she will be seated at a holiday dinner table with an empty seat, in honor of her husband Lonnie, who died from COVID in April 2020.
The inspiring relationship between Wanda and Jamal began in 2016, when her wrong-way text made her an internet star.
Dench thought she was sending a Thanksgiving invite to her grandson, but the teen who received it didn’t know her from Adam.
Jamal, then a 17-year-old high school senior, was in class when the invitation showed up on his cellphone. He didn’t recognize the phone number, so he wrote back asking who sent it.
“Your grandma,”Dench replied. “Grandma?”Hinton replied. “Can I have a picture?”
That’s strange, Dench thought. She took a selfie at her desk and texted it.
Here is where things get very funny.
“You not my grandma,”Hinton stated. “Can I still get a plate tho?”
Dench was embarrassed by her error, but she quickly recovered.
“Of course you can,”She wrote back. “That’s what grandmas do … feed everyone.”
Dench can be described as white. Hinton is Black.
The teen took screenshots of the conversation and uploaded them to Twitter. They were retweeted more then 150,000 times.
Dench didn’t know Hinton had posted their exchange online.
Then, her phone went black. Because her phone number was in the screen shots, she received over 600 text messages and dozens voicemails within a matter of days.
She had to change her number.
Hinton and his girlfriend have been celebrating Thanksgiving together ever since with Dench’s family. Even last year when Dench wasn’t feeling like celebrating, he still celebrated. Her husband, who had died from coronavirus complications the spring before, was also killed.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Dench, now 64, 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.”
They chose to keep the gathering intimate. “It was just five of us. My daughter put my husband’s picture on the table with a candle,”The group celebrated with absent and present friends.
Dench is going all-out this year. Dench will cook a turkey, green beans casserole, pumpkin pie, and other fixings for 12 guests.
Hinton of course will be there, along with his girlfriend, Mikaela. Dench explained that Hinton, now 21 years old, is a successful water-softener salesman. She said that he has matured into a fine young adult and is proud to be a grandmother.
She anticipates that this year’s holiday gathering will be bittersweet.
“We were married 42 years. he was definitely my soul mate,”She stated. 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 everyday. I tell him I love him every day. I wish he was 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 stated.
Hinton unexpectedly entered her life and brought joy to her and her husband.
“To meet someone as special as he is, the friendship we have developed, is priceless,”She said.
Hinton “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.'”
Dench stated that despite the age gap between her and Hinton, she and Hinton’s girlfriend are close friends. She often spends hours talking to Hinton in a restaurant.
“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.”
However, she could do something different for Thanksgiving 2022.
“I’m going to push Jamal to have it next time,”She laughed.