Grandma and stranger she accidentally invited to Thanksgiving continue holiday tradition seven years later

Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton went viral six years ago when the 65-year-old grandma accidentally texted the stranger inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, the two have forged a lifelong friendship as their Thanksgiving tradition continues, and even plan on getting matching tattoos.

On 22 November, Hinton assured his friends and followers that he will once again be joining Dench and her family for Thanksgiving this year. Hinton, now 23, shared a photo on Instagram of himself standing next to Dench outside The Cheesecake Factory restaurant.

“To answer all your questions, yes Thanksgiving year 7 is planned out! See you guys Thursday!” he captioned the post, alongside a turkey and black heart emoji.

A lot has changed since 2016, when the Arizona grandmother texted the number she thought belonged to her grandson, but accidentally messaged then 17-year-old Hinton. Now, their viral friendship has even inspired an upcoming Netflix movie, but they agree that their bond will continue out of the spotlight.

“I told her the cameras and the fame, everything could stop tomorrow, and nothing’s changing between us,” Hinton recently told NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren on Today.

“Absolutely,” Dench said. “He’s in my heart for life.”

The 23-year-old was even there when she got her first tattoo about a month ago. “Matching tattoos next,” Hinton added.

When Dench accidentally texted Hinton about Thanksgiving plans in 2016, Hinton documented the mix-up in a series of viral tweets. Rather than ignore the unknown number, the two sent each other selfies. “You’re not my grandma," Hinton replied, before asking if he could still come to Thanksgiving dinner.

“Of course you can,” Dench responded. “That’s what grandma’s do…feed everyone”.

That Thanksgiving, Hinton did actually make the trip from Tempe, Arizona to Mesa to join the Dench family for dinner. The unlikely friends have celebrated together ever since.

In 2020, Dench and her husband, Lonnie, were both diagnosed with Covid-19 around the same time, but Lonnie was sent to the hospital with pneumonia. Sadly, her husband passed away that year, but Dench, her grandson, and her daughter met up with Hinton and his girlfriend, Mikaela, to keep the tradition alive.

Hinton also made sure to send their support for Dench during the difficult time. “I heard some rustling at my front door, and I opened it up and Jamal and Mikaela were dropping off a whole bunch of food and gifts and stuff,” Dench told Today.

A week after his passing, Hinton shared a heartwarming video of himself and his girlfriend at lunch with the couple, and captioned the tweet: “We miss you Lonnie.”

Dench has previously opened up about her relationship with Hinton, and how he’s taught her that friendship has no age limit. “Jamal taught me that age made absolutely no difference,” she once told Today.

She recalled one time when she and her husband ate dinner with Hinton and his girlfriend at a restaurant, and the couples lost all track of time. “That’s when it dawned on me that there doesn’t have to be a generation gap to have friendships,” she explained. “So now I look at a lot of young people in a different light than I used to and I make it a point to talk and get to know them.”

“He’s changed my life a lot, I know that.”

When Hinton started a new business this year, he told Today that he put a picture of Dench on his advertising billboard in honour of their friendship. “I’ve always told her whatever I’m doing, she’s a part of, no matter what it is,” he said.

This friendship knows no bounds, but Dench did admit that she struggles trying to get Hinton to call her on the phone because Hinton prefers text messaging.

“Don’t worry, we’re going to work on your texting,” he jokingly told the grandmother.

Next year, Dench will be moving a few hours away after her retirement, but that won’t stop them from continuing their Thanksgiving tradition for the eighth year in a row.

“Already got plans for next year,” Hinton said.