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Thanksgiving tradition lives on for viral Arizona grandma, teen

(Twitter Photo/@JamalHinton12)

PHOENIX — An Arizona grandma and a man who was a teenager when their Thanksgiving text message exchange went viral have carried on their tradition for a fifth consecutive year despite challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Mesa resident Wanda Dench had Jamal Hinton, now 21, and his girlfriend over for a small Thanksgiving dinner on Friday because of coronavirus. This time, however, Dench’s husband, Lonnie, wasn’t there.

Lonnie Dench died of COVID-19 on April 5 after the couple had contracted the virus in late March. Wanda and Lonnie had been married for more than 40 years.

Hinton was among those who reached out to give his well wishes to Wanda before the two reunited last week to keep their tradition alive.

“It was nice. It was good. It was a happy occasion,” Dench told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad on Monday. “It couldn’t have been any better than if it happened on Thanksgiving.”

Hinton’s ability to console Dench over her husband’s loss stemmed from an accidental text she sent the then-17-year-old in 2016.

Dench thought she texted her grandson about coming over for Thanksgiving but accidentally messaged a number that belonged to Hinton. Hinton jokingly replied he would like to come. Dench told him he was welcome.

Hinton tweeted screenshots of their exchange and subsequent meeting.

The two and their families have met for the holiday every year since and even expanded their relationship.

Dench said that she and Lonnie would go on “double dates” with Hinton and his girlfriend.

An open chair with a photo of Lonnie and a candle was arranged Friday in his honor.

“We never ran out of things to talk about,” Dench said.

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