Four years after Wanda Dench became known on social media as “Thanksgiving Grandma” – because she accidentally invited a stranger to her Mesa, Ariz., Home to celebrate the holiday – the two shared a holiday meal for the fifth time Friday.
This year, however, Dench’s dinner with his now honored “grandson” Jamal Hinton came with an empty seat at the table. Dench, 63, lost her husband, Lonnie, to coronavirus in March. The couple had been married for more than 40 years.
“It’s going to be different, my first Thanksgiving without him,” Dench said in an interview. “My husband was always right behind me and told me how proud he was of Jamal and me for what we have done.”
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In 2016, Dench sent a reminder to her real granddaughter about Thanksgiving dinner at her home at 6 p.m. 15, but when he had changed his phone number, the text went to Hinton instead. Despite the mistake, the still hospitable Dench asked the then 17-year-old Hinton to join the family anyway.
“You’re not my grandmother,” Hinton texted her back at the time. “Can I still get a plate, though?”
“Of course you can,” Dench replied. “That’s what Grandma does … feeds everyone.”
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The emotional story went viral and the two families have met for cranberry sauce and stuffing every year since.
“After meeting her the first time I just knew she’s a different person, age is really just a number,” Hinton, now 21, says of Dench, according to The New York Times. “It does not mean you can be friends with anyone, you can be family with anyone.”
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Due to the risk of the pandemic, the two decided to celebrate the holiday a week early this year. They also had a smaller party than usual, but made sure to leave a photo of Lonnie on the table to keep their “family” whole.