MESA, Arizona — When Wanda Dench sat down to Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family this year at her home in Mesa, Arizona, all of the guests were invited on purpose.
It was a change from last year’s Thanksgiving, when the grandmother of six accidentally invited high school student Jamal Hinton to dinner at her house.
Dench had thought she was texting a grandson but messaged Hinton by mistake. Despite the mixup, she told Hinton her invitation still stood. He showed up. Their story made headlines.
This year was different.
“I reached out to him about a month before and said, ‘Thanksgiving is at my house again, I’d really love it if you would come.'” Dench said. “He has family that’s close by, and I understood if he couldn’t. But he did spent half of Thanksgiving with them and the other half with us.”
When the teen from nearby Tempe showed up with a homemade pumpkin pie and his girlfriend in tow, Dench said she was thrilled.
“My husband and I were really happy he came. It was more low-key and quiet. We reminisced and talked about last year, how it was such a whirlwind,” she said. “I learned a lot about the internet that I never knew.”
Good food, fewer cameramen
Hinton said this year’s meal was great, with “less hype” and “less cameramen.”
“It was nice to have dinner, very quiet but not weird quiet or awkward quiet, it was a good quiet. The food was good and we got to talk this time,” said Hinton, who went to Dench’s house before having dinner with his own family. “It went great, and my new grandma seemed to love my girlfriend, so that was good.”
Hinton said his maternal grandmother “is a little bit jealous, but she likes it too, she likes seeing me on TV.”
Hinton and Dench kept in touch via text messages over the past year, he told CNN.
“Mostly we text, talk about work and school. She knows my plans, she wants to help out,” he said.
The 18-year-old graduated from high school last summer. He took a semester off school and hopes to start college at Arizona State University in January.
“I want to go to law school and become a sports agent,” he said.
Dench used to work in a legal department and plans to keep tabs on Hinton’s career and give him advice where she can.
‘I’m very blessed’
Dench says she feels fortunate that the wrong text brought the young man into her life.
“One thing that I believe and have always said is that there are no accidents, and I can say I’m very blessed for something like this to happen and it turned out to be so positive and such a great thing,” she said.
Dench says Hinton has an open invitation to all future Thanksgivings at her home.
But Hinton says he is considering hosting the meal next time.
“I might, I just might. I gotta get together with the family and see how I feel,” he said.
When told of his comments, Dench laughed and said, “I would like that. It’s a lot of work. If I could not do all the cooking and cleaning, I’d like that.”
“He’s still only 18 so maybe when he’s in his 20s and has his apartment for a while… it will be about time to have my invite over at his house,” Dench said.