PHOENIX — It was a holiday story the Internet was quick to gobble up: A grandmother’s accidental text to a Phoenix teen that led to a stranger’s invitation to Thanksgiving dinner.
Wanda Dench of Mesa had meant to send the Nov. 15 group message to a few family members, inviting them over for dinner.
The text, meant for a grandson, was instead sent to Jamal Hinton, a 17-year-old from Phoenix.
Hinton posted the screenshots of the conversation to Twitter, which was shared by his best friend and subsequently shared nearly 200,000 times.
It seemed everyone was curious if the unlikely duo would spend the holiday together.
“Well, it’s happening,” Wanda said to The Arizona Republic Thursday afternoon. “He's showing up today with a pumpkin pie.”
Wanda and her family had been prepping all morning for the anticipation of their new guest. Waking up near dawn, Wanda put two turkeys back-to-back in her small oven so that there would be enough food to feed everyone.
“The sad part is, I don’t even cook,” she said, laughing. “I’m sure he’ll wonder what he’s gotten himself into by accepting my invitation.”
“You don’t do ... horrible,” teased her grandson, Randall Burgoyne.
The text that started all this had originally been intended for the 21-year-old Burgoyne, but he changed his number last May and had forgotten to mention it to his grandmother. Burgoyne found out about the mistaken identity exchange when he saw that he had missed several calls while at work that night.
“When I called my boyfriend he told me, ‘Grandma is on the Internet,’” he said laughing. “Now my grandma’s everyone's grandma!”
Burgoyne said he was not surprised by Wanda’s decisions to invite Hinton, as their family has always had an open-door policy, welcoming any friends who wanted to join them for the holidays.
Wanda’s daughter, Lisa Dench, said she helped maneuver Twitter and the slew of texts sent to her mother’s phone immediately following Hinton’s post.
Hinton forgot to remove her number from the screenshots, so she received about 600 texts from people asking if they, too, could be invited.
“At first it was a slow trickle,” Lisa said. “But then they came rushing in. I scrolled and scrolled and said to my mom, ‘You’ve got a lot of love. We’ve got to make this into something.’”
Wanda and her family believe that people were looking for a feel-good story during a time of tension following the presidential election and a series of police shootings, protests and violent incidents throughout the country.
“We feel like it was fate that this occurred during such a rough time and right before Thanksgiving,” Lisa said.
Somebody grandma is coming in clutch this year!! Ayee!!! pic.twitter.com/laXmX6rotA— Certo Nego (@RonaldDoee) November 15, 2016
Burgoyne said he hopes when people see Hinton and his family sit down for their meal, that they see a message of kindness.
“I hope this shows people we don’t need to care about the color of someone’s skin, or even if we know each other, to know that we can all get along,” he said.
Wanda and Hinton had briefly met last week, so Thursday’s dinner would allow the two to get to know each other, Wanda said.
“The conversations tonight ... that’s what I’m excited about,” Wanda said.
As the sun began to set Thursday, the long table set with silver platters and sparkly candles was ready in the backyard. It was almost time for Hinton to arrive so the family went out front to greet him on the driveway.
The excitement rose as Hinton pulled up along the street.
“I’m so happy you came,” Wanda said as he walked over and gave her a big embrace.
“I am, too,” he said.
And as if making a confession to his own grandmother, Hinton softly said he had forgotten the pumpkin pie while in the rush coming over.
“We’ve got plenty,” Wanda assured.
“Let’s go in and take a look at the turkeys,” she said, leading him toward the house.