Love Notes: Janice and Frank Patterson

Janice and Frank Patterson, outside their Oak Park home. (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune / December 11, 2012)

That videotape, it turned out, got good play in South Carolina, where Frank's mother would invite friends over for "showings," as few people there had ever seen a Jewish ceremony. Up north, the ice melted more slowly but surely.

Two years after getting married, Janice got sick with Budd-Chiari, a serious liver disease, and had to stay several weeks at the University of Chicago hospital in Hyde Park. Several times a week, Frank would drive from their home in Oak Park to pick up her parents in Rogers Park to visit Janice in Hyde Park, and then he would reverse the circuit to drop them off.

After several of those long commutes, Janice's father confessed to one of her cousins, "How can I not love somebody who loves my daughter that much?"

When, in 1991, Frank and Janice became the parents of a baby girl, Rachel, the grandparents fell in love with the family for good. "I think they realized the similarities were more than the differences," Janice said.

"We became the best of friends," Frank said.

Though they came from different worlds and have quite different personalities — Janice is the chatty one, Frank the quiet one — what united the pair were shared values: a commitment to family first, social action, a moral center. And, ironically, rather than dilute Janice's religion, the mixed marriage made it stronger.

When Rachel was born, Frank insisted she be raised knowing a religion, to ground her in a sense of right versus wrong. He didn't mind if she was Jewish or Baptist, as long as she was observant. So for the first time in her life, Janice joined a synagogue and steeped Rachel in Judaism, wanting her to feel secure in her identity as both a woman of color and a Jew.

As it turned out, the racial and religious differences never caused them any strife. The hardships they did face — Frankie's disability, Janice's liver disease and subsequent liver transplant, the fire that completely destroyed their home and all of their belongings — brought them closer.

Now both retired, the Pattersons live simply, happy that their kids are happy — Frankie, now 37, volunteers daily at West Suburban Medical Center — and grateful for their close circle of friends.

"We've had a wonderful life," Frank said. "A wonderful life."

Love lesson: "Don't just assume that because people look different, they are wrong," said Janice Patterson, white and Jewish, who has been married to Frank Patterson, black and Baptist, for 24 years. "We probably have a lot more in common than a lot of people of my same race and religion."