The Washington Post

Thankfully, it was the wrong number: A text leads to a new holiday tradition

- BY SYDNEY PAGE inspiredli­fe@washpost.com

It has been six years since Wanda Dench went viral for her accidental Thanksgivi­ng text to Jamal Hinton, but the Internet is still swooning over their feelgood friendship.

It began in November 2016, when Hinton, then 17, got a text message from an unknown number inviting him to Thanksgivi­ng. When he asked who it was, the person responded: “Your grandma.”

“Grandma? Can I have a picture?” the teenager replied.

He received a selfie of a woman he had never seen before. It was Dench, now 64.

Hinton wrote back, “You not my grandma,” adding a laughing emoji.

Still playing along, he jokingly asked: “Can I still get a plate tho?”

Dench replied: “Of course you can. That’s what [grandmas] do . . . Feed everyone.”

Hinton soon realized her mistaken invitation had turned genuine, and he decided to take Dench up on her offer. He went to her home in Mesa, Ariz., about a 25-minute drive from his house south of Phoenix, for a Thanksgivi­ng meal with her family — which he has attended every year since.

What started as a misdirecte­d text message has blossomed into a friendship that continues to charm the world. Hinton shared their 2016 exchange on social media, and hearts swiftly melted.

Every year since then, the duo and their families have convened for a Thanksgivi­ng meal, and this year will be no exception.

Hinton, who shares regular updates on social media about his Internet-famous friendship with Dench, confirmed in a tweet on Nov. 14 that the Thanksgivi­ng tradition will live on this year as well.

“We are all set for year 6!” Hinton posted on Twitter, along with a screenshot of a text message from Dench — whose name in his cellphone is “Grandma Wanda” — inviting him, his girlfriend and his family over to her house for Thanksgivi­ng.

“It would bring me great joy if you, Mikaela and your family would come to my house on Thanksgivi­ng day to share good food and great conversati­on. Your friend always, Wanda,” wrote Dench, whose relatives — including her actual grandson, whom she initially intended to text instead of Hinton — also partake in the annual festivitie­s.

Like last year, though, this holiday reunion will be bitterswee­t. Dench’s husband of 42 years, Lonnie Dench, who enthusiast­ically participat­ed in their Thanksgivi­ng tradition, died of covid-19 complicati­ons in April 2020.

Dench described her husband as “her hero,” who “did so many acts of kindness that no one ever heard about.”

After his death, Hinton, who had grown fond of Lonnie Dench over the years, tweeted, “We miss you Lonnie,” along with a video of them together.

Despite the sudden loss, Dench and Hinton decided to still celebrate their fifth Thanksgivi­ng together last year.

“I wasn’t looking forward to it at first, because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there,” Dench said in an interview with CNN.

Hinton also had mixed feelings before the meal: “Thanksgivi­ng isn’t going to be the same anymore but we will make the best of it,” he tweeted.

Although there was a void without her husband, Dench said, she was grateful to have her chosen family by her side: “I don’t have my beloved Lonnie with me, but I will be with family I love dearly,” she wrote in a tweet last Thanksgivi­ng, sharing a photo of her family, along with Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela.

During the meal, they kept a framed photo of Lonnie Dench at the head of the table, next to a candle.

Hinton chronicles their friendship on social media and has more than 111,000 Twitter followers, who keenly count down to each November, when he shares his annual Thanksgivi­ng selfie with Dench.

While the holiday is unquestion­ably the most special time of year for their friendship, Dench and Hinton also keep in touch in between Thanksgivi­ng feasts. The duo do dinner dates at Benihana and have barbecues.

Although Dench was initially embarrasse­d about the misdirecte­d text in 2016, she said, both she and Hinton feel very thankful that it happened.

“Family is more than blood,” Dench said. “It’s the people you want to be with.”

 ?? JAMAL HINTON ?? From left: Wanda Dench, Lonnie Dench, Jamal Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela. In 2016, Wanda mistakenly texted a Thanksgivi­ng invitation to Jamal’s number. The strangers became family who gather every Thanksgivi­ng. Lonnie died of covid-19 complicati­ons in 2020.
JAMAL HINTON From left: Wanda Dench, Lonnie Dench, Jamal Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela. In 2016, Wanda mistakenly texted a Thanksgivi­ng invitation to Jamal’s number. The strangers became family who gather every Thanksgivi­ng. Lonnie died of covid-19 complicati­ons in 2020.

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