MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — It’s perhaps the most popular Thanksgiving tradition in the world: Wanda and Jamal celebrate together, and this is the seventh year! They rose to viral fame in 2016 when Wanda Dench thought she texted her grandson about Thanksgiving dinner but accidentally sent it to the wrong number. Instead, she sent it to a teenager, Jamal Hinton, who showed up for the holiday dinner.
Her life has changed so much since then, with some big new changes on the horizon. They say that you lose track of time when you’re having fun, and these two seem to have all the more fun as the years add up.
“It gets bad at 30!” said Jamal. “Wait until you’re 65!” Wanda said, laughing. “We even had an adventure. We went to Atlanta, Georgia earlier this year and had a great time there. We were on a game show!”
The 2016 text mishap unexpectedly led to a tradition in which they have celebrated Thanksgiving together every year since, with a friendship to boot. “I know the first Thanksgiving he didn’t bring anything,” Wanda said jokingly. “Wow! Throwing people under the bus, dammit!” Jamal laughed.
They’re adding a new activity to the mix this year — baking pumpkin pies. “We thought we might bring cakes for everyone tomorrow for Thanksgiving,” Wanda said. “I don’t think I’m a good cook, but my husband says I was.”
Wanda’s husband Lonnie was a Thanksgiving fixture. Unfortunately he died of COVID in 2020. On Thursday, they will all have dinner at Jamal’s friend Mikaela’s family home, the last place Lonnie celebrated Thanksgiving with them.
Though he’s gone, Lonnie is still part of the changes in her life over the past year. “I got a tattoo. And this guy accompanied me because it was my first tattoo,” Wanda said. “It’s three shooting stars and they represent my husband, mom and dad who are all in heaven right now.”
Jamal has grown from teenager to adult before our eyes and added a new title to his resume this year: Coach. “5th grade basketball coach, 6th grade. I have some great kids on my team,” Jamal said.
“What’s it like being on the other side when you started this story as a kid?” asked reporter Briana Whitney. “It’s wonderful. It’s something I never thought I would do,” said Jamal. “I’ve always looked up to my coaches. It’s great to know that there are kids out there that I love help.”
And perhaps the biggest change: Wanda is moving a few hours north to Prescott, Arizona. “It’s going to be bittersweet because I have wonderful memories of this house. All of our Thanksgivings that we’ve had here,” Wanda said.
Don’t worry, they already have an answer to your question. “We already have, I guess, the eighth year planned!” said Jamal. “Eight will be at my new house up in Prescott!” said Wanda. “That means I’ll have to drive a lot next Thanksgiving!” said Jamal.
These two always go the extra mile for each other because regardless of differences in race, background, and generation, the only ingredient needed here is a whole lot of heart. “It definitely made me realize how important friendship is,” Wanda said. “And maybe in the most unlikely of places,” Whitney said. “Yes,” Wanda and Jamal replied.
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