By Briana Whitney
MESA, Arizona (KTVK, KPHO) — It’s the Thanksgiving tradition that just doesn’t get old – not only to Arizonans but all around the world.
“Thanksgiving grandma” Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton are celebrating their sixth Thanksgiving together after she mistakenly texted him about the holiday back in 2016.
It’s a text that changed their lives, so this year Arizona’s Family wanted to sit down with them for a personal interview reflecting on the past and what’s to come for the two of them.
“Year six. Can you even believe it?” asked reporter, Briana Whitney.
“No, not at all,” they both said.
“I feel like I’m getting older every second!” laughed Jamal.
It’s become a tale and tradition as old as time. “It feels really good inside to know that I bring people joy,” said Jamal.
By now, the world knows the story – Wanda accidentally texted Jamal in 2016 for Thanksgiving dinner, thinking she texted her real grandson. That year they got together for the holiday, thinking it would be a one-time thing. Now they count their blessings that it wasn’t.
“How old were you when this started?” asked Whitney.
“17, I believe. Yeah, 17. And now I’m turning 23 in two months,” Jamal said.
“You’re getting recognized in public. Best Buy, Verizon,” Whitney said to Wanda.
“Yes! It’s so funny. Anywhere there’s young people, they recognize,” she said.
“What do you guys think it is about this story that people come back and they’re actually asking for it? They want to know updates on your lives each year,” said Whitney.
“I’ve been asked that question so many times, and I give the answer that it’s just a feel-good story. There’s a lot, but people want a feel-good story,” said Wanda.
The two have celebrated more than just Thanksgiving together; Christmas, birthdays, and exciting new opportunities have come their way.
“All of this kind of helped me figure out what I wanted to do in life,” said Jamal.
“Give everybody the update: what are you starting to pursue?” asked Whitney. “Right now, I’m starting to pursue an acting career,” Jamal said.
“If you have your own talk show, can I be on it?” Wanda asked him.
“Of course, of course! You’re the main person. Co-hosts!” laughed Jamal.
But Wanda and Jamal have experienced loss together too. Wanda’s husband Lonnie passed away from COVID-19 last year, their first year spending Thanksgiving without him. Wanda credits social media for helping her through it.
“I get so many people giving condolences, and they’re so genuine and so uplifting,” she said.
This story almost never happened had Wanda not responded when Jamal jokingly said he’d come over for a Thanksgiving plate that first year. Yet here we are in 2021. At times, the world can feel divisive and heavy, but this story is simple: it knows no race, age, or background boundaries. This is pure friendship, admiration, and love.
“What would have happened if you never texted him back?” asked Whitney.
“Then I would have missed out on a wonderful relationship,” Wanda said. “I’ve changed my view so much on the younger generation, and now that I’ve reflected back on all these years, I didn’t change their life; they changed mine.”
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