Thanksgiving this year was a bittersweet affair as an empty seat at the dinner table reminded them of what they'd lost.
Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton's friendship bloomed via a classic case of texting the wrong number four years ago when the grandmother accidentally invited him, a total stranger, to her Thanksgiving dinner. The bond they formed that day became quite popular online as a testimony to mankind's ability to come together in the most inspiring ways. The pair has celebrated the holiday together ever since and not even the pandemic could stop them from doing so this year as well. However — like most celebrations in 2020 — it was a bittersweet affair as an empty seat at the dinner table reminded them of what they'd lost.
Thanksgiving isn’t going to be the same anymore but we will make the best of it 😔— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) October 9, 2020
According to CNN, Dench and Hinton celebrated their fifth Thanksgiving together on Friday in Mesa, Arizona. Missing at the table was Dench's husband of 43 years, Lonnie Dench, who passed away in April from complications caused by COVID-19. "I wasn't looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn't going to be there. The past seven months have been so difficult, but this was really important to me," she said. "I can't even explain how much joy I had, having good food with my favorite company. We laughed, we had a great time, we reminisced about the past. It was so good for all of us."
For everyone who thinks it’s just for the cameras and social media! We are so blessed to have Wanda and Lonnie in our lives and we all are so happy to know our story has touched so many people💛 pic.twitter.com/iapl88Gh6l— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) May 11, 2019
The iconic duo's Thanksgiving this year was a small affair, with Hinton's girlfriend Mikaela and Dench's daughter and grandson in attendance. The group chose to celebrate the holiday on Friday so that they could get tested for coronavirus before celebrating it with their own families later. "At first it was sad. We had a photo of Lonnie at the table with a candle lit, and we were all shaky in the beginning but it lasted five minutes before we were back to ourselves," said 21-year-old Hinton. "We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie, so it was amazing."
2016, 2017...... 2018 ❤️ pic.twitter.com/0ZNA54uGAS— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 23, 2018
It was in 2016 that Dench accidentally sent a Thanksgiving dinner text invite to Hinton believing she was texting her grandson. Hinton, who was a high school senior at the time, responded to the text asking for a photo to confirm if it was his own grandmother behind the invite. The mix-up quickly became clear as the photo featured a woman with blonde hair and glasses, who was most definitely not Hinton's grandmother. "[You're] not my grandma," he texted back before jokingly adding, "Can I still get a plate tho?"
Somebody grandma is coming in clutch this year!! Ayee!!! pic.twitter.com/QGrx83nHLl— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) November 15, 2016
"Of course you can. That's what grandmas do... feed everyone," Dench replied, giving start to a cherished tradition they both hope never has to stop. "It all has to do with this feeling. There's just this connection. It feels like we've known each other in past lives," Dench said. "There's absolutely no generational gap between us. The conversation just flows, we never run out of things to talk about." Hinton revealed that although he worried there would be awkward silences or moments between them when he first showed up on Dench's doorsteps, she quickly became one of his closest friends.
2019 coming soon don’t worry 😊 2 months away pic.twitter.com/g0YPITzYJP— Jamal Hinton (@Jamalhinton12) September 19, 2019
"Whenever we met, we would spend four or five hours, just talking and talking. It was never awkward, Wanda and Lonnie became two close best friends to me," Hinton said. "There's nothing about her that is mean, or uncaring. It feels like I have told her my whole life story, and she always listens and shares her own story. She's just the most loving person. She's pretty much perfect." He admitted that things feel a little bit different without Lonnie this year. "Lonnie was missing this year, and he was a big part of the Thanksgiving story and a big part of our lives, but that's one thing Wanda and I know for sure. Lonnie would have been very angry if we didn't have Thanksgiving together," he said.
"Lonnie was never the quiet guy. Right when I walked in the door the first time I met him, he didn't even reach out for a handshake. He just immediately pulled me in for a hug," Hinton explained. "He was the kind of guy to always bring your hopes up whenever you felt down. Losing him was losing a best friend." Dench hopes her husband's story will encourage people to be more careful during the pandemic. "Just have patience," she said. "I know it isn't easy, and everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back to normal. But we need to have hope and always care about other people."