In 2016, Jamal Hinton, then 17, received a text from a grandmother inviting him over for Thanksgiving dinner. The thing was, it wasn’t his grandmother.
Wanda Dench hadn’t realized that one of her grandsons had changed his number, and Hinton, instead, received her texts.
When it became clear that Dench was not his grandmother, he asked if he could still attend the holiday dinner in her Mesa, Ariz., home. Yes, Dench replied, “because that’s what grandmas do … feed everyone.”
Hinton shared the exchange on Twitter; it quickly went viral. And it’s become an annual tradition that’s beloved by the families and the internet.
Hinton recently shared on Twitter that he will be at Dench’s house again this year to enjoy good food and great conversation. “We are all set for year 6!” he tweeted.
Over the years, Hinton has documented their celebrations through photos on Twitter.
In April 2020, Dench and her husband, Lonnie, were in the hospital with COVID-19. He died from complications from the virus.
“I wasn’t looking forward to [Thanksgiving dinner] at first because Lonnie wasn’t going to be there,” Wanda told CNN in 2020. “The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me.”
Hinton told CNN that dinner was “shaky” at first, but they were back to their normal selves in 5 minutes. “We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing,” he said.
Outside of Thanksgiving, Hinton and the Denches have visited pumpkin patches and shared gifts. Hinton even helped the Dench couple with their phone troubles.
“Family is more than blood,” Wanda said in a 2018 Thanksgiving video. “It’s the people you want to be with and you just feel good with.”
Wanda told the Today Show that the year she accidentally sent Jamal the text, she had considered not hosting Thanksgiving festivities at all.
“I asked my husband if we could just skip Thanksgiving that year and go off and have a mini vacation or something,” Wanda said. “But little did I know, that’s not what the universe had planned for me.”
“This story has been amazing from the start to the finish,” Hinton said. “It actually helps me get through the year sometimes to see so many uplifting comments, to see so many people looking forward to our story that I just love it all.”
Tien Le is an intern on NPR’s News Desk.