You Can Do Anything
Maria Del Carmen Rottenburg left behind her privileged lifestyle, dissolved an engagement and dealt with a total disinheritance. Through it all, this South American native never lost her positive outlook.
STYLE: Maria, can you describe your childhood in South America?
Maria: “I’m an only child from a very wealthy family in Peru. My life was very restricted and very strict. Even as a 20-year-old, when I went to the movies with my fiancé, my nanny or my mother had to accompany me. If I went to somebody’s house, my nanny had to go with me.”
STYLE: Did you marry your fiancé?
Maria: “No … I felt the guy was not true to me somehow, so I lied to my father and said I wanted to learn languages [in the United States]. I begged my father to let my aunt in Miami host me and protect me. I left Peru in 1969 at 20 years old. That’s where I met my first husband, who had also come to Miami to learn languages. We met in May and got married in December … My aunt helped me write a letter to my fiancé and my father. I was a minor and by law I had to break the engagement in a formal way, otherwise my father could be sued.”
STYLE: Then what happened?
Maria: “We got married and left for Portugal where his mother lived. My husband and I were both disinherited and didn’t have any money except $500. We stayed there and had our daughter and then he started working for Control Data. That company brought us to Minnesota and in 1982, we became naturalized citizens.”
STYLE: Did you work after you got married?
Maria: “I went to work because I wanted a house and my husband said we had to start saving. I applied as a waitress and was accepted … I was used to ordering people around like maids and on my first day that’s what I did at work. My manager fired me … I applied at Howard Johnson and started making up rooms. I was so efficient people were leaving me money. The lady who was in charge loved me. I earned the money we needed [$1,200] for a down payment on our first house in just eight months.”
STYLE: You must have felt very good about earning that money.
Maria: “I was very proud to have contributed. None of my family knew I went to work. I did it and I was happy. I felt useful. Ultimately, we lived in quite a few different states and ended up in Virginia. Then after 34 years of marriage, my first husband died of lung cancer. I stayed in Virginia for eight years before moving to The Villages. That’s where I met my husband Bill.”
STYLE: Tell us about your life in The Villages.
Maria: “I joined the Spanish American Club and those people are like my family. Here I can do anything. I can be free and do the dances I always wanted to do. With my first husband there were no sounds and no music. He was very strict. Now I feel like it’s a second birth for me. If you put your heart into it, you can do anything.”