Teenager Jamal Hinton got a hilarious text. It was an invitation to Thanksgiving from someone who said she was his grandma.
He’d never seen the number before and responded “Grandma? Can I have a picture.”
When a picture popped up of a Wanda Dench, now 60, he chuckled. “You not my grandma,” he wrote back with a laughing emoji. Hinton, then a high school senior, texted back a picture of himself.
It was so funny, he decided to draw it out a little. “Can I still get a plate tho?” he asked, not expecting a response. She shot back: “Of course you can. That’s what grandma’s do…Feed everyone.”
The two corresponded a few times and Hinton realized Dench was serious about the invitation. She lived in Mesa, Ariz., about a 25-minute drive from his house south of Phoenix. Not too far to travel, he decided.
So instead of going to his own grandmother’s house, he showed up at Dench’s.
“She was very sweet and open,” Hinton said. “I thought, ‘I can’t really not accept an offer like that.’ ”
He was welcomed as family by her, her husband and other Dench relatives, including her actual grandson. What started with a handshake ended with a hug. Their story has since been shared thousands of times on the Internet.
“We just connected kind of,” Hinton, 18, said of Dench and her family.
That was last year. The two developed an unlikely friendship, talking regularly as she gave him advice about his life and career. He got another invitation for this year, but this time it was intended and very genuine.
He showed up with his girlfriend and a pumpkin pie.
“She’s like a grandma to me; she gives me advice on keeping my head up in school,” Hinton said. “She asks me about my dreams and stuff, what I want to get done in life.”
Dench said that last year when she first realized she had texted a stranger she was embarrassed, but also thought it was amusing. The number previously belonged to her grandson.
“My grandkids thought it was a hoot,” she said. “They tease me to this day about taking my phone away.”
When Hinton tweeted it, and did not obscure her phone number, she was overwhelmed with 600 text messages within hours, most of them cheering her on. She quickly changed her phone number.
“I learned a lot of new language,” she said. “Like, ‘my phone blew up’ and ‘I came in clutch last year.'” (The former means a phone getting a lot of calls and text messages; the latter means a person who comes in time of need.)
She said she’s enjoyed getting to know Hinton but is still blown away that he actually showed up for Thanksgiving both last year and this year.
Hinton works at a butcher shop but has plans to start taking college classes in January. He said he wants to eventually go to law school.
His own grandmother and mother have been supportive of his new friendship, he says. Next year, they might all get to meet.
“I might even host next year,” Hinton said. “I hope she’d let me.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.