Teen who accidentally met 'Thanksgiving Grandma' 4 years ago continues holiday tradition after her husband's death
- Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench spent their fifth Thanksgiving together on Friday, she told The New York Times on Sunday.
- Hinton first celebrated the holiday with Wanda in 2016 after the grandmother accidentally texted the then-stranger an invitation to her family dinner.
- Lonnie Dench, Wanda's husband who joined in on the friends' tradition, died due to complications related to the novel coronavirus in April, marking Wanda's first Thanksgiving without him.
- "It's going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him," Dench said, adding, "My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we've done."
Jamal Hinton and Wanda Dench celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together on Friday, the 63-year-old grandmother told The New York Times on Sunday.
Instead of the jubilant holiday tradition that began when Wanda first contacted Hinton by accidentally texting a dinner invitation to the wrong number in 2016, the friends had dinner celebrating the life of Lonnie Dench, Wanda's husband who died due to complications related to COVID-19 in April.
"It's going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him," Wanda told The New York Times.
"My husband was always right behind me, telling me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we've done," she told the Times. In memory of Lonnie, they placed his photo at his seat and lit a candle.
"We were all shaky in the beginning but it lasted five minutes before we were back to ourselves," Hinton, who's now 21 and works as a car salesman, told CNN, adding, "We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing."
Given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people avoid traveling for Thanksgiving as the United States approaches 12 million COVID-19 cases, Hinton said he took precautions before seeing Wanda.
Hilton told CNN that he, his girlfriend Mikaela, and Wanda's daughter and grandson all got tested prior to seeing each other.
On Thursday, he also confirmed that he quarantined for two weeks to ensure that the friends could safely enjoy their meal face-to-face.
"It's become a huge part of our lives," he explained of his and Wanda's tradition on "Good Morning America." "It's great being part of something so loving and having people around the world to talk to us and being touched by our story."
—Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) October 9, 2020
In July, Hinton and Mikaela shared a video of themselves cooking dinner for Wanda and asking about how she's been coping with her husband's death.
"It's been kind of trying since Lon passed away back on April 5 from the COVID-19," Wanda said, continuing, "I want to say thank you to all of the people that sent their blessings and their condolences and their well wishes for me."
Wanda added: "When I get visits from these guys, it really perks me up."
Their friendship began in 2016 when Wanda thought she was sending a text message to her grandchildren inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner.
"Who is those," Hinton, who Wanda had accidentally included in their group message, replied.
After swapping selfies, Wanda and Hinton confirmed that they weren't related.
"You not my grandma," he told her, adding, "Can I still get a plate tho?"
Wanda answered: "Of course you can. That's what grandma's do...feed every one."
—Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 15, 2016
The exchange went viral, garnering over 140,000 likes and more than 40,000 retweets on Twitter. Wanda even became known as "Thanksgiving Grandma" on KnowYourMeme.com.
And with each year that's passed, fans have expressed their delight at updates about the friends' holiday reunions.
"After meeting her the first time I just knew, she's another person, age is really just a number," Hinton told The New York Times.
He added, "It doesn't matter, you can be friends with anybody, you can be family with anybody."
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